The mini-pantry movement is helping the hungry during the pandemic
[Aug. 12, 2020: Yahoo! Life]
In Austin, Texas, a repurposed Little Free Library on a quiet residential street is now packed with canned goods, not books. In New York City, those in need can help themselves to food stocked inside community outdoor fridges scattered on sidewalks throughout the city. And from Houston to Hawaii, mini-pantries, “blessing boxes” and other makeshift food donation receptacles are helping the hungry and those hit hard by the pandemic get fed.
The grassroots method isn’t brand-new — Jessica McClard, founder of the Mini-Pantry Movement, launched her Little Free Pantry Pilot with a standalone box stuffed with food and personal care items outside her home church in Fayetteville, Ark. in May 2016, having conceived the idea the year before. But it’s taken on new urgency amid the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 50 million new unemployment claims filed in the U.S. since late March. As Feeding America’s May report outlining the pandemic’s impact on local food insecurity notes, “demand has spiked at food banks and pantries across the country,” while school closures have made children reliant on free lunches even more vulnerable. That’s coupled with a disrupted food supply chain, food deserts made even more inaccessible, and general anxiety about going out in public, particularly for high-risk individuals.
“For me, this started as a way to build community and increase neighborliness,” says McClard, whose site maps out a network of similarly minded pantry projects across the country — and features DIY instructions for constructing your very own pantry. But, as she tells Yahoo Life in the video above, the circumstances of the past few months have been “exceptional” due to the pandemic.
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“There's so much more food insecurity because of the financial repercussions of COVID,” she says, adding that “brick-and-mortar food pantries and food banks are absolutely overwhelmed because of supply chain problems.” What’s more, a food-insecure individual may not officially qualify for assistance like food stamps, whereas free pantries are available to anyone in need, no questions asked. McClard calls it a “gap filler” for anyone who needs a boost to get by, whether that’s a college student who’s been laid off or a mom with no money for diapers until her next paycheck comes.
For those who are in a position to help, but find traditional volunteer opportunities potentially risky or limited because of social distancing restrictions, setting up a fully stocked pantry or blessing box has a particular appeal. According to McClard, the “vast infrastructure” of the existing Little Free Library network — the help-yourself book dispensaries which inspired her pantry project — makes it relatively seamless to pivot to food donations; many a lending library has cleared a shelf or two of books to make room for canned goods. Pitching in can be as simple as dropping off a few donated items (with limited contact and plenty of social distancing) or becoming a steward yourself by setting up your own pantry or other makeshift kiosk. The Little Free Pantry Instagram feed reveals that everything from converted bureaus to plastic storage containers and even cardboard boxes have been stocked with essentials like paper products, cans of soup, baby formula and face masks.
“I think this is absolutely the mini-pantry’s moment and it's good that it's here for people,” McClard says of the growing number of projects that have cropped up during the pandemic. She also feels inspired by the pantries she sees being stewarded by kids, whether as a camp, school or Eagle Scout project or an independent initiative to do some good.
“[These are kids] putting themselves in a position of civic responsibility that a lot of adults really never have,” she notes. “So it's been really wonderful to watch kids take this on, and incredibly inspiring.”....Read More