Little Free Pantries: A new approach to solving hunger

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.— Many people have heard about Little Free Libraries, the bird house-like cabinets popping up across the country asking people to take, borrow or donate books. But have people heard of Little Free Pantries?

A Little Free Pantry is typically a wooden cabinet with unlocked doors, only a few feet in diameter, and stocked with non-perishable food items, toiletries and other donations.

They pop up in front of churches, in neighborhoods and even in people’s driveways. Creators say they’re designed to meet the last-minute needs of others, and oftentimes fall within food deserts where access to grocery stores and public transportation is limited.

West Morris Street Free Methodist Church on the southwest side of Indianapolis, installed one such “Little Free Pantry” this month, with plans to install a second in the near future.

“There are some real, significant needs in this neighborhood,” said Kristen Marble, Senior Pastor at West Morris Street Free Methodist Church, “so in some small way we can make a difference in that, then that’s what we want to be about.”

Marble launched a Little Free Pantry at Mars Hill Free Methodist Church, where she previously served as pastor, the response there from the congregation and the surrounding community was immediate.

“Much to my surprise, great surprise, probably within several weeks the neighborhood itself kind of adopted the pantry and made sure it was full,” Marble said people would pick up extra groceries just to stock the pantry which would see 20-30 guests a day.

The West Morris Free Methodist’s Little Free Pantry sits right out front of the church’s entrance. After announcing its installation, Marble said her office was stocked with nonperishable items from her congregation.

“This is a great, easy way for people to be involved both ways. They might take something one week and then the next week they might have a little extra money and opportunity to give back so they can put things back in the box to share with somebody else,” Marble explained the church is located about 2 miles from the nearest major grocery store.

Many people in the community, Marble says, rely on public transportation and limited budgets to shop for food. She hopes this pantry can help give folks a little extra to get by.

But it’s not just churches creating Little Free Pantries.

In Franklin, Michelle’s Little Free Pantry sits at the top of a residential driveway on Weber Court.

Created by a mother, and stocked round the clock by anonymous donors, Michelle’s Little Free Pantry represents the power of social media in helping others in need.

Kayli Selburg, a young mother of a one-year-old son, said her friend referred her to the pantry’s Facebook page when she was in desperate need for diapers.

Within 24 hours, Selburg said she received a response, and someone donated diapers to Michelle’s Little Free Pantry.

“I was speechless about it,” said Selburg, “It was very useful because I only needed diapers for a few days and I was set for like a week or two.”

The generous donor also left some giftcards for Selburg as well.

Since then, Selburg has returned the favor and donated other baby items and baby food back to Michelle’s little Free Pantry: “I wanted to thank the person who donated it, I also wanted to help people see what good she’s doing.”

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