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Little Free Pantry Brings Neighbors Together

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My name is Jessica McClard and I started Little Free Pantry, or Mini Pantry Movement, four years ago at my church in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The whole idea started a year prior to that, after I discovered the Free Little Libraries on my running route. I loved to stop and browse through the books, and began to wonder if something similar could be done with food. Arkansas is perpetually one of the most food insecure states in the country, so I wanted to find a way to meet that need.

I believe that people are really craving community and a way to be neighbors again. We want to be connected and care for one another. That’s what drove this pantry idea. I’ll admit, though, that my first attempt at building a pantry kind of fell flat. It took a few tries to get the concept up and off the ground. Finding a location was a bit of a challenge and continues to be the most critical factor in setting up a new pantry. 

Flow is another important aspect of building a successful pantry. You need people to stock it and people to take food from it. The structure itself is just a box on a post, so it can be as simple or as complex as you want. The pantries are 100% open source–we don’t organize the stocking of it or control the recipients. It’s available for anyone who wants to donate and anyone who needs to take some food.

Overall the whole thing has worked incredibly well. I have been amazed how the organic flow with food coming in and going out has been really balanced. We have had very few problems. 

All of the marketing has been grassroots as well. After I set up the first box, I took a picture of the pilot site and shared it on my social media page. Then I asked people to like the post and share it. The idea really resonated. Almost immediately people began finding and using the boxes, and then the local media got hold of the story.

Boxes started popping up all over the country, and now we have 1,040 mapped out across the nation. I’m sure there are actually many more than that…because anyone can create a box. There is nothing proprietary about what we do.

Since the COVID-19 quarantine started, we’ve seen even more activity at the pantries.  We’ve learned of several new permanent projects, as well as countless on-the-fly, pop-up locations that utilize anything they can find.  I’ve seen upcycled furniture, boxes and even Rubbermaid containers being used as pantries.

The number of people who are routinely giving is higher than ever before. The movement is perfect for this season in time. Brick and mortar food sources rely on systems from which we now must distance. Nonprofits are often staffed by senior volunteers who are now quarantined at home. So many people have lost jobs and the need for food is higher than ever.

Our pantries are unaffected by the disruption in the supply chain. Before the pandemic, the mini pantry was more of a gap filler. Now it’s become a critical resource as neighbors care for neighbors. There is an upwelling of mutual aid right now, and social distancing and shame mitigation are naturally built into the pantry system. 

If you have ever thought about starting a mini pantry, I encourage you to get out and build it! All a person needs to have is the will to make it happen. There are even kids doing it! People all over the country have joined the movement and I will tell you…the experience is life-changing. It’s amazing what little effort is required to make such a huge difference. 

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Share some ideas below of how you are supporting your local community like Jessica & her teams all over.

#BeANeighbor #InThisTogether


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