Neighbors feed neighbors with Little Free Pantries


These ingenious kitchen cupboards are mounted outdoors, and food and toiletries free to the public.

A new type of food pantry is sprouting on American lawns. Called a ‘Little Free Pantry,’ this outdoor cupboard is mounted above the ground, with a see-through, unlocked door that allows people to give and take food items at their leisure. The idea is to have a constantly-accessible, public source of food for anyone who may need it, and to enable generous-minded neighbors to share their bounty in a direct way. The name, of course, is inspired by the Little Free Libraries which operate on the same concept of “give what you can, take what you need,” only with books.

The Little Free Pantry, which only came into existence in May 2016, eliminates the need for a ‘middleman’ or additional paperwork, which can be deterrents for some people when visiting public food banks. It’s entirely anonymous and available 24/7, which is attractive to those people who do not want to be seen accepting donated food.

Maggie Ballard, who installed a Little Free Pantry outside her home in Wichita, Kansas, says most people come between midnight and 7 a.m. She told NPR’s The Salt:

“It’s both awesome and sad to see the turnover of goods every day. On Christmas Eve [I] watched as a family of three opened [the] box to find a bag of bagels and started eating them right there.”

The Little Free Pantry’s obvious downside is the fact that it’s small and therefore unsuitable for feeding any significant numbers of people with regularity. The pantries are not meant to replace food banks by any means, but they can help fill in the gaps when needed. They rely on freewill donations, which means that supply is irregular, but the idea’s founder Jessica McClard, doesn’t see this as a bad thing:

“Irregular supply is an effective control keeping both consumption and traffic manageable. Irregular supply minimizes loitering as well.”

McClard suggests getting community groups on board, such as churches, and assigning one day per month to ensure there’s always something in the pantry. If a municipality or city has a rule forbidding food donations (apparently this actually exists), then a pantry could feature personal care items, like sanitary pads, toothbrushes, and diapers, all of which are greatly needed.

The idea is catching on. The Little Free Pantry’s relatively new Facebook page has nearly 20,000 likes and features photos from Arksansas, Ohio, Washington, Rhode Island, Iowa, Missouri, and Virginia, just to name a few.

The pantries are appealing because they’re a simple concept that allows neighbors to help those in the immediate vicinity in a very practical way, without requiring a significant financial outlay or a long-term commitment. It’s a wonderfully promising grassroots approach to fighting food insecurity, and could make a real difference in the lives of many families, as it spreads further afield.

It brings to mind the solidarity fridge in Spain, which aims to reduce food waste by sharing leftover perishable food in a public outdoor refrigerator that’s accessible to all.


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