This woman put a pantry in a parking lot. Her reason why is amazing.
Jessica McClard jogged around her neighborhood in Arkansas and saw these:
These are Little Free Libraries. Neighborhoods and communities build them and then stock them with books. All the books are free, and it's an open-source operation — neighbors see a need for new books and fill it. In June 2016, there were 40,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide!
They gave Jessica an idea. Instead of Little Free Libraries filled with books, she wanted to create Little Free Pantries, stocked with food and other pantry items.
The concept of the Little Free Pantry is simple: Build a pantry, place it in your community, and fill it with items. Then tell folks about it! Items in the Little Free Pantry include non-perishable food and drink but can also include sanitary products, diapers, light bulbs, and school supplies.
The primary purpose of the Little Free Pantry is to offer some support to anyone in the community who may be experiencing need.
According to the USDA, an estimated 14% percent of American households were food-insecure at some point in 2014. That's over 1 in 10 households dealing with a lack of affordable, nutritious food.
Food pantries can't always stay open 24 hours, but Little Free Pantries can. So with a tiny seed grant of $250 from her employer, Thrivent Financial, Jessica put her idea into action. She planted her first pantry in her church's parking lot in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
From there, Jessica let folks know about it on her Facebook page, and the idea took off!
"It doesn’t matter if you’re low-income or upper-middle-class," she says. "It’s a community meeting point."
She has kept tabs on the one pantry so far, and she's seeing it get refilled around six times a day already.
Jessica says: "I really owe so much to the Little Free Library concept. I didn’t really invent the wheel. I duplicated that library box, but I put food in it!"
Three months after she posted about the first pantry, Jessica started hearing that folks in other towns, states, and even countries were planting their own Little Free Pantries, too.
Some communities are planning to put up a few Little Free Pantries here and there, while other groups are planning to build up to 40.
It just feels like it's good for good’s sake and no other reason," Jessica says. "In our news cycle, everything feels so negative and scary, and I think this is a counter to that."
"For me, the need to give is a very strong need," Jessica says. "It may not be as great as a need for food. But people need to serve. Probably, all people do."
She says projects like these give her hope in humanity, too.
"It’s just been amazing to see people respond in such a positive way. ... It's a reaffirmation of the fact that people do care about each other."
That box feels like my Narnia. It’s just a little box, and I open that door and the world just becomes ... bigger.
To keep important connections, conversations, and change going, Jessica intends to keep the project entirely open-source.
"Sometimes I get asked if I’m interested in becoming an organization," she said. "I don’t want to put any barriers in the way of doing this. The more people on the project, the better."
The concept is open to everyone to try. She loves getting suggestions from the community, and she's hoping that some folks will take it upon themselves to repurpose kitchen cabinets to plant their own "green" pantries!
"I would hope that in stocking the pantry, it would inspire folks to get even more involved in community service because it’s a really easy first step."
Jessica says Little Free Pantry has been a weird, wild, awesome ride that never would've happened if she hadn't taken a chance on herself.
"I wonder sometimes too about all these ideas out there that just stay an idea."
"I am meeting people that I never would’ve met. It’s really a cool, overwhelming experience. It’s really just changed my life. "
"That box feels like my Narnia."
"It’s just a little box, and I open that door and the world just becomes ... bigger. It’s just been a grand adventure."