Pantry to provide new parents with baby items

A Whidbey nonprofit is hoping to ease some of the financial burden for new parents.

Becoming a new parent can be a challenging experience. A Whidbey nonprofit is hoping to ease some of the financial burden for caregivers with a new location to pick up much needed supplies.

Mother Mentors of Whidbey Island will open a “supply bank” of items for babies and young children in February.

The shop, called the Parent Pantry, will be open twice a month at the South Whidbey Elementary School South Campus, run by volunteers and open to all Whidbey residents, free of charge.

Starting this week, community members can help stock the shelves by providing diapers, formula, baby clothes and shoes, strollers, high chairs and more at Parent Pantry supply drives from 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 6 at the Whidbey Presbyterian Church in Oak Harbor and Jan. 8 at South Whidbey Elementary School.

There will be more opportunities at the same locations Feb. 3 in Oak Harbor and Feb. 6 in South Whidbey.

Kate McVay, the executive director for Mother Mentors of Whidbey Island, said the supply drives will also be a place for parents to pick up items if they need them.

The Parent Pantry is intended to be a permanent place where the items will be on display.

“I think it will be a great way for people who need specific things to come get them without any strings attached, or cost,” McVay said.

Sarah Santosa, a member of the organization’s board, has been tasked with the design of the new space. Drawing from her experience of running a bridal boutique, Santosa has big plans — involving twinkle lights.

“I want it to be cute,” she said. “This isn’t the sale bin at the thrift store. We’re going to have cute decor. We want this to feel special and inviting and not like a punishment or a last resort.”

The Parent Pantry is a brand-new concept to South Whidbey — although it is open to all island residents — and intended as a pilot project, she explained. Santosa has been inspired by an organization in Canada called Mamas for Mamas that does similar work to Mother Mentors.

With the arrival of the pandemic, McVay and Santosa both agreed there have been several more hardships for caregivers.

Personal connection and brief in-person interaction have been important in combating some of those hardships.

“Even that once-a-month, come-pick-it-up-with-your-mask-on, even that little bit of connection is so welcome,” McVay said.

Santosa said the new store will have a “no-questions-asked” policy, meaning people will not need to submit evidence of their need.

Items in demand include shoes, diapers, formula and big-ticket items such as portable beds.

“We don’t have a lot of space, so no large furniture and no stuffed animals unless they’re new with tags,” she explained, adding that it is hard to keep toys like stuffed animals sterile and clean.

If people are unable to donate items, financial contributions are also welcome on the Mother Mentors website, mothermentors.org.

The goal for the new Parent Pantry is for it to feel simultaneously approachable and like “a chic boutique.”

The pantry’s grand opening is slated for Valentine’s Day weekend.

“Now more than ever, we want our young families to stay here and stay safe and supported,” Santosa said.

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