In Seattle and in cities across the United States, residents are helping their COVID-related unemployment neighbors by building Little Free Pantries and filling them with dry goods.
“Pantries are a really cool concept because they meet two needs,” Molly Harmon, personal cook and director of Seattle’s Little Free Pantry Initiative, told Food Tank. “They… provide food to people who may need it, and it’s a way for [a] Return neighbor. “
The residents store each Little Free Pantry, a 3 × 3 box, with non-perishable food as well as hygiene and disinfection products. Those in need can take what they want anonymously, Harmon told 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 houses and fill them with books that neighbors can borrow or trade.
Harmon began using their Little Free Library as a pantry in 2014 to support their community. However, 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 in her neighborhood.
To expand the project further, she also set up a GoFundMe page and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Since then, her team of around 40 volunteers has raised over $ 4,000 and built 74 Little Free Pantries in the greater Seattle area.
As families and individuals feel the economic impact of COVID-19, Harmon notes that more and more people are turning to pantries for basic needs. And while Harmon stresses that pantries are not a substitute for food banks, they can be a compelling tool for providing food to those in need.
“[Little Free Pantries] They have a strong scope as they fit right in the neighborhood and are a kind of safety net for those who may not have access to a food bank’s resources or who have recently been unemployed and have never had to obtain resources from a food bank. There is this anonymous access point for people, ”says Harmon. “There is absolutely no barrier to this food.”
Given the success of the initiative, Harmon hopes to expand the reach of the pantries even further. She works with food banks, schools, marketing teams, data experts, and others to implement similar Little Free Pantry initiatives in schools and rural areas in Washington state. Ultimately, through the Little Free Pantry Initiative, Harmon hopes that people can better understand how food insecurity is affecting people in their own communities. She also encourages people to get involved and follow the project on Instagram.
“We need to be really creative and experiment with how food is distributed and resourced in this country, and Little Free Pantries are an opportunity for neighborhoods and communities to fill those gaps in our food system.”
Photo courtesy Molly Harmon