In May of 2016, the Little Free Pantry was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Mom of two, Jessica McClard, was inspired by Little Free Libraries, which are small, free-standing structures that offer books for the public to borrow at their will.
She thought the same concept could be used to address food insecurity in her community.
“My little free pantry is 100% open source, which means that the community supports it at their discretion and convenience. I have not solicited any kind of corporate support for the project or organized any kind of stocking schedule,” McClard said. “Stock just kind of cycles into it and out of it.”
What goes in and out of the little free pantries depends on what people care to give.
“I have a tendency to put in duplicates of whatever I’m buying at the grocery store,” she said. “I have friends who are more conscientious about stocking personal hygiene items, just generally any non-perishable food items paper goods, personal hygiene products, that kind of thing is what can go in it.
“The turnover at my site is extremely high however. It empties in under 30 minutes from the time the stock goes in, so there is clearly a need and probably everywhere," McClard said.
She says, unfortunately, there is a stigma connected to need, however Little Free Pantries help break it down.
“What’s really interesting about the little free pantry project is, it’s anonymous, which can help with that stigma. But more than that, everyone goes up to the pantry in the same way, so whether you’re putting food in or putting food out, you’re on the same side of that box, so it kind of breaks down the barrier between a service provider and a client and I think that raises all kinds of interesting questions about food insecurity and need and I know I have thought more about what my own need is since I have been a part of this project than I have before," McClard said.
McClard’s Little Free Pantry has been duplicated dozens of times throughout the country. Anyone who wants to create one in their own community is encouraged to do so. But she urges volunteers to find out about zoning, permits and local ordinances when it comes to placement of the pantries.
“I would advise that certainly before anybody begins construction that all of those questions get cleared up just to protect themselves.”
"When you get the green light," McClard says, "get the kids involved too."
“It’s easy but it's not too easy - there’s a lot that can be learned and it’s fun - I think kids get that people are hungry and it has a very physical component to it when you place items in the pantry and you know that’s for something else. I just think that's a neat way to get kids involved with service and it’s a great entry point in general," McClard said.