Pagan-run food pantries continue to offer resources during pandemic

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SANTA ANA, Calif. – Maintaining a strong community during the long pandemic that has consumed most of 2020 now in the U.S. has been difficult, especially for members of the Pagan community.

Long the linchpin that has held the eclectic umbrella of Pagans, Witches, Heathens, Wiccans, and others together, many Pagan shops have suffered and are struggling to stay afloat in the Covid-19 economy. So often witchy and Pagan shops are labors of love, even in the best of economic times.

Image credit: R. Mohan

With so many people and families struggling to stay afloat financially, it can be easy to lose hope or feel isolated. Many members of the Pagan community often feel isolated even in the best of times, unable or unwilling to come out of the broom closet to family and friends, or at work.

Witches and pagans have lost work hours or lost their jobs altogether, along with millions of other Americans. A number of states, including California, have continued to have problems getting unemployment benefits to many of the millions of applicants.

Millions of Americans have now filed for unemployment, and even a significant portion of those who have continued or returned to work are considered underemployed.

Parents are also struggling to provide safe places for their children, who are attempting to navigate the educational system virtually from home. More than once on the news Americans have seen photos and videos of the shockingly long lines at food pantries across the country.

People who were already living in the margins have been pushed over the edge, and others who never thought they would need help have suddenly found themselves with drastically reduced incomes, swamped with bills, or facing mounting mortgage or rent payments.

In Santa Ana, California, one Pagan shop has been serving the surrounding community since long before Covid-19, and continues to reach out to anyone who needs assistance now, no questions asked.

Less than a mile from the 22 freeway in Orange County, The Dragon and The Rose has continued to see steady business throughout the pandemic crisis. The shop has been in its current location since January of 2017 but has been in business longer.

Karen Estremo, along with business partner Hugh Robbins, felt called to serve the Pagan community when her daughter Arielle was hit head-on during an accident and killed by a drunk driver.

Since the founding of the shop, an ever-growing community of Pagans has visited the shop. The Dragon and The Rose has also partnered with a number of small and local merchants and businesses to bring unique products to clients and has hosted numerous events.

Partnering with the non-Pagan and non-magickal community has been extremely important to Karen Estremo, and the shop had collected and donated for a few years to Second Harvest Food Bank.

From there, the project has evolved, Karen explained. “We started collecting for 2nd Harvest about 7 years ago, but about 5 years ago, they just didn’t pick up our donations, so after a while, we just distributed them directly to people who were having a rough time.”

These distributions continued informally for a few more years. Then last year, Arielle’s Table was formally established.

A space in the shop is designated for the pantry, and customers can conveniently ‘shop’ for food and toiletry items. Arielle’s Table is open to anyone who needs a helping hand. Anyone in the community can stop by, and the pantry is totally community-supported.

The Dragon and The Rose has long been a safe space for people who sometimes feel very isolated, misunderstood, and alone, and adding the pantry provides a discreet way to make sure that having a meal and access to basic hygiene is one less worry.

People do not need to be Pagan or witchy to get assistance from the pantry. Anyone who needs help can stop by The Dragon and The Rose during business hours or can message the store via Facebook or the website.

The staff is also happy to accept donations to the pantry. It is best if food items are shelf-stable, and Arielle’s Table also gratefully accepts toiletry and hygiene items, as well as pet items—many pantries do not have things available for dogs and cats, and it can be heartbreaking to let go of a treasured family pet while trying to make ends meet.

There is another food pantry founded by a Pagan group serving Lansing and surrounding areas in Michigan, called Pagans In Need.

Pagans In Need can be contacted through Facebook page or on their Patreon and is open for distribution usually on Saturdays. Little Pagan Pantry is another resource located in the Richmond, Virginia area.

Pagan-focused pantries can feel safer for people who are uncomfortable going to other similar pantries such as those sponsored by Christian churches.

The Dragon and The Rose – Image credit: R. Mohan

The Dragon and The Rose is located in Santa Ana, California, and is open with COVID-19 safety measures in place Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 7 pm.

Stability went from being an afterthought to an elusive goal for many this year. Arielle’s Table’s goal is to ease the worry of wondering about where the next meal is coming from or making sure that people have simple, yet essential items like shampoo and toothpaste.

Arielle’s Table is just another way that Karen Estremo can give to a community that meant a lot to her daughter. Through Estremo’s work, what is remembered, lives!