In Seattle and cities around the United States, residents are helping their neighbors affected by COVID-related unemployment by building Little Free Pantries and filling them with dry goods.
“Pantries are a really cool concept because they are filling two needs,” Molly Harmon, personal chef and leader of the Little Free Pantry initiative in Seattle, tells Food Tank. “They…provide food for people who may need it, and it’s a way for [a] neighbor to give back.”
Residents stock each Little Free Pantry, a 3×3 box, with non-perishable food items and hygiene and sanitizing products. Those in need can take what they like anonymously, Harmon tells Food Tank. The concept is inspired by the Little Free Libraries initiative, a community based book exchange. Community members build boxes in front of their homes and fill them with books, which neighbors can borrow or trade.
Harmon began using her Little Free Library as a food pantry in 2014 to support her community. But, with COVID-19, she saw an opportunity to help even more people. She applied for and received a grant from The Awesome Foundation to build six more pantries around her neighborhood.
In an attempt to expand the project further, she also set up a GoFundMe page and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Since then her team, which consists of roughly 40 volunteers, has raised over US$4,000 and built 74 Little Free Pantries in the Seattle Metro Area.
With families and individuals feeling the economic effects of COVID-19, Harmon notices a greater number of people turning to the pantries for basic necessities. And while Harmon stresses that pantries do not replace food banks, they can be a compelling tool to provide food to those in need.
“[Little Free Pantries] have a powerful scope because they fit directly in the neighborhoods, and they’re kind of a safety net for those who may not be able to access resources from a food bank or are recently unemployed and have never had to resource from a food bank. There’s that anonymous access point for people,” says Harmon. “There is absolutely no barrier to this food.”
In light of the initiative’s success, Harmon hopes to expand the pantries’ reach even further. She is working with food banks, schools, marketing teams, data experts, and others to implement similar Little Free Pantry initiatives in schools and more rural parts of Washington State. Ultimately, through the Little Free Pantry initiative, Harmon hopes people can better understand how food insecurity affects people in their own communities. She also encourages people to get involved and follow the project on Instagram.
“We really need to have some creative thinking and experimentation on how food is distributed and resourced in this country, and Little Free Pantries give neighborhoods and communities that ability to fill those gaps in our food system.”
Photo courtesy of Molly Harmon