KEMPTVILLE, ONT. -- When Kemptville, Ont. resident Jennifer Tanner realized some charities were not accepting item donations due to COVID-19, she decided to do something about it.

"I had about a first year's set of baby stuff, cloth diapers and everything, and none of the shelters would take it," Tanner said. "I called them all and they were like, no, sorry, we can't accept any donations."

Understanding that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for vulnerable people to access services, she decided to raise a tent in her yard in the town south of Ottawa and offer her items to those who need them for free.

"I thought if I start a little place where people can swap, so it's like front porch drop off, then people can swap and I'll encourage the people that can afford to make a donation to make a donation," Tanner said.

She also started a Facebook group called "Kemptville Take and Give Tent", where people can list items they have to give away.

"It's been everything. Someone dropped off some golf clubs. Someone dropped off some skis. A lady dropped off a children's telescope," Tanner added. "There's bed linens, and for the larger items, people will say on the Facebook group, 'Hey, I've got a twin bed, does anybody want it?' And someone will say yes. So then they can, you know, make that drop off."

From colouring books to collared shirts, there is a little bit of everything under the three tents. There is even a spot for personal hygiene products, since some people might not have access to them.

"A charity box for people to drop off unopened shampoo and conditioner and sanitary products," which Tanner says has a high turnover rate. "Women go through their cupboards and guys, too, and they'll bring a big box full of shampoo and conditioner and baby products. And it's almost all gone the next day."

The only rules Tanner asks people to follow are to be respectful while browsing the items and to keep it to one family at a time.

Take and Give tent sign

"(People) wait in their cars until the tent is clear, so it's really been encouraging for me because I'm happy to offer this and I don't have to maintain it all the time because that wouldn't be possible for me, I'm trying to take care of my family," Tanner added.

Kate Stacey, a Kemptville resident, has used the tent more than once for her kids with special needs.

"We live within walking distance to the tent," Stacey said. "It's been a huge motivator, especially for my younger kids to walk over to the tent after they finished for the day and have a browse and also to donate some of their toys they're not using anymore."

Stacey said her family is currently living on one part-time income, so the tent has been a real blessing.

"Our income's been greatly reduced. So, we've been really blessed by being able to get clothes for everybody. The kids have been able to pick out presents for each other for upcoming birthdays, which they wouldn't be able to do even at Dollarama right now. So they've been able to take pride in that."

Stacy added some people have lost their jobs or even their homes during the pandemic and the free items are needed in the community.

"There's so many obstacles, when you haven't lived in poverty or been exposed to it, that you just you wouldn't even be aware that people around you are struggling with," she said.

Kemptville Take and Give tent

"There is a growing need in Leeds Grenville for housing and just for an understanding that the people who are struggling right now are employed, they're not couch surfers. They're people who are your neighbors who have to access services like the food bank and other financial aid," Stacey added.

"I think it's important that people understand that during lockdown, not everybody's in a position where they can go online and just order something, pay the shipping fees, do curbside pick up. A lot of people don't have the technology or the transportation to even do that or even a cell phone to call in."

"We are so rich," Tanner said. "Every household is so rich, even the poorest household has things other households in need desperately and they don't need them right now.

"Our cupboards and our basements, we're just holding on to the stuff because it shouldn't be thrown away, but the fact is there's a place for it in every home and it's just a matter of coming together and making that an easy, effortless transaction.

"It's just amazing to see the heart of the community open up and turn over with COVID-19, because we all realize that even those of us that are well-off, like we're struggling day to day on an emotional level," added Tanner. "We can't even imagine what it's like to lose your house or to have major health problems or to have children with disabilities sent home to learn where even professional teachers as their day jobs struggle to teach them."

Another Kemptville mother who stopped by to browse through the tents said it's amazing for her children.

"We come here, we drop things off and root around and pick a new toy," she said. "The kids can't get any toys right now at the store. It's pretty spectacular what Jennifer is doing."

Take and Give tents

Tanner says the tents will stay until local charities are able to take donations again and she's exploring options to have a permanent location where people can drop off and browse items outdoors at their leisure.

"I'm really grateful how COVID-19 has opened up people's eyes," Tanner said. "It's been easy previously for those that are well-off just to live their happy lives, but COVID-19 has made us all part of a family that are just trying to meet our children's needs, caring about the elderly that are shut in.

"I really look forward to seeing how our communities and our country and our global community evolves. Through all this, and if we're ever feeling alone, we can just give."

"I'm amazed at the quality and how much pride people are taking (in the tents) and not dumping bags of garbage that they don't feel like putting a bag tag on," Stacey said.

"They're labeling each item, they're hanging them up, they're folding them and putting them by size and gender. So, they're taking pride in the things they're dropping off. It doesn't feel like charity when you come to the tent."