Who is the Little Free Pantry for? The LFP is for neighbors helping neighbors. In high poverty areas, the LFP is most often for those who are not easily able to meet everyday food and personal needs. In middle class neighborhoods, the LFP might stock after-school snacks for neighborhood kids or that "cup of sugar" you never have when you need it. (In my case it's an onion.) In all places, the Little Free Pantry is for those who want and/or need to give.

How does the Little Free Pantry differ from other food pantries? 

  • The LFP is small, so it cannot stock the quantity and variety other food pantries can. For this reason, it should not be relied on for meeting pervasive need.
  • Many food pantries require application before use and have set hours of operation. Anyone may access the LFP at any time.
  • Food pantries operate as service providers, those who use them as clients. The LFP dissolves that professional boundary. Whether stocking or taking stock, everyone approaches the LFP the same way, mediating the shame that accompanies need.
  • Food pantries are critical in addressing food insecurity. But some fall through the cracks. The LFP is a safety net.
  • The LFP is a proving ground, testing concepts like community, charity, justice, and sharing economy.

Starting Up

How do I start my own Little Free Pantry? Location, location, location!

How do I determine location? All of the following should be considered in determining location.

  • Safety first! Your location should not place anyone in an unsafe place, whether in an area of high crime or high traffic.
  • Second, determine whether private property or public property best suits your vision. Follow appropriate channels to obtain permission and/or a permit and choose a back-up location in the event your request is denied.
  • Third, determine whether neighbors will be supportive of the project. Will increased traffic to the site be viewed as nuisance or invasion of privacy.
  • Finally, Little Free Pantries should be accessible to the public. If in an area where people travel by car, sites should be safely accessible by car with no impact on local traffic.

How do I build a Little Free Pantry? Feel free to replicate the original design. Or build a structure suited to your aesthetic preference and needs. Googling "Little Free Library plans" yields lots of content, including specs. If your LFP will be on another's property, share your plans with the property owner for his or her approval. Then, get crafty!

How do I secure the Little Free Pantry? The original LFP is secured to a 4x4 with a 4x4 bolt down, which can be purchased at any chain home improvement or hardware store. The 4x4 is cemented in place.


How do I stock the Little Free Pantry? The original LFP is stocked organically. Those who wish to contribute may do so at their discretion when convenient. Demand outpaces supply, so the LFP is often empty. However, empty shelves are problematic only if no one is contributing. At that point, you might want to organize a group of friends, neighbors, co-workers, church-goers. Thirty of these could be assigned a day of the month to contribute, for example. Please note that irregular supply is an effective control keeping both consumption and traffic manageable. Irregular supply minimizes loitering as well.

What do I stock?

Encourage your contributors to stock according to need. Discourage sharps (razors), chemicals, previously worn clothing (which adds bulk), or anything illegal. Generally, canned vegetables and proteins, personal care items, and paper goods go fast. Kid-friendly non-perishables, crayons, and inexpensive party favor items are great for supplies for August!

If your stock does not turn over frequently, monitor cans for bulging and leaking, especially during extreme temperatures. Also, if your LFP will be stocked organically, you won't always be able to control what's inside. However, a daily site visit will allow you to maintain a safe, neat space.

What if I can't stock food? This question was asked by someone who lives in a city with an ordinance prohibiting feeding the homeless. Let that sink in. Moving on. Personal care items, paper goods, etc. are not food.

Red Tape

Will I be allowed to duplicate The Little Free Pantry project where I live? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Municipal building codes and zoning laws vary from location to location. Follow appropriate channels to obtain permission and/or a permit if necessary. Also, neighborhood support for the project prior to implementation and a good location will help avoid complaint.

What if someone gets sick? Or gets a splinter? Consult The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996. Determine if it applies to you and manage your project in accord with its tenets.    

To avoid splinters, etc., be sure to keep your LFP in good repair. Does your property insurance cover the LFP? If not, you might wish to purchase personal or commercial liability insurance as a safeguard. If you are worried, consult a lawyer.