Little Free Pantries: Community Cupboards That Nourish Neighborhoods

Fairfield’s newest Little Free Pantry at 500 E. Burlington, home of Bob Ferguson.

Little Free Pantries are a new wave of neighbors being neighborly. They’re a grassroots solution to immediate, local needs, created and run by anyone who gets the urge to do a bit of carpentry with friends, build a small cupboard, mount it on their property, and invite neighbors to help keep it stocked with nonperishable food as well as toiletries, masks, and whatever else folks might find useful. Small toys and school supplies are welcome, too. As the motto on the front of the pantries says, “Take what you need, Give what you can.”

Luckily, in Fairfield, there are already several organizations working to reduce food insecurity, such as the Lord’s Cupboard and Carry On Bags. Yet Little Free Pantries can fill some of the gaps. It’s an anonymous and immediate way for folks to pick up what they can use to get by, for today. No strings attached, no questions asked.

The Little Free Pantry on the MIU campus, next to the Golden Dome Market

Jessica McClard was the first to put up a food pantry in 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to address the food insecurity she saw in her neighborhood. Then came the Blessing Box in Ardmore, Oklahoma, Bare Necessities in South Windsor, Connecticut, and Trolley Trail Pantry in Oak Grove, Oregon. Now they are in every state, including all over Iowa.

In Fairfield, the number is growing. In 2016, MIU student Barbara Hays, with help from Maker Space organizer Dora Pollak, built one on the MIU campus near the Golden Dome Market. Together, they designed, built, and installed it.

There’s also a Little Free Pantry on Madison Avenue, between the old hospital and Washington Elementary, built by the Voreis family. Another one was just built at 500 East Burlington Avenue, funded by Bob Ferguson, who’s working with an enthusiastic group of people to rethink our local food system. He also wants to help people learn to grow food in home gardens.

Mark Soth and Steve Blum with their newly completed pantry at 410 W. Lowe Ave. in Fairfield.

The latest Little Free Pantry was just installed at Big Blue, at 410 West Lowe Avenue, thanks to Deborah Pogel, who’s inspiring people to build more around town. It takes a village to make it happen—and make it fun! Steve Blum and Mark Soth built and installed the pantry, Mark Stimson donated the posts it stands on, I painted it, and John Stimson added lettering. The best part is that people took food from it the very first day! Neighbors continue to add items like canned soups, pasta, corn on the cob, applesauce, and other essentials like toothpaste, shampoo, scrubbies, masks, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer.

If you’d like to build a Little Free Pantry in your neighborhood, the cost of materials ranges from $175 to $400, and you can find building plans online. Or you can make a tax-deductible donation to build one. Donate through Divine Star Charities, specifying Little Free Pantries. Send your check to Divine Star Charities, 200 West Washington, Fairfield, Iowa, 52556.

And consider an occasional visit to your nearest Little Free Pantry to add some needed items for your neighbors.

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“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can change the world.”   —Howard Zinn