Little Free Pet Pantries

The Humane Society of Columbiana County and volunteers recently launched a "blessing box" dedicated to provision of items for animals. The project is called "St. Francis Blessing Box."

A bit about St. Francis...Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment. He even preached to animals, believing all creation to be brothers and sisters.

Appropriate that this group would name its project in his honor.

Until four years ago, I thought folks were kind of silly about their animals. We had a cat. Cookie. He is alright. It wasn't until Baron, a 100-pound German Shepherd, came into our home that I "got it." For so many people, living with a companion animal dramatically improves quality of life. I think about this when I drive past the rail-thin gentleman who panhandles at the intersection nearest my office. He pushes a shopping cart of belongings, among them, two small, brown tabby cats. According to Pets of the Homeless, 5-10% of homeless people have cats or dogs, that percentage rising to 24% in some places. I think about the comfort Baron brings me from the comfort of a home and plenty. I imagine for many poor and homeless folks, that comfort is even more valuable. 

Helping pets of poor and homeless folks helps the folks themselves. Sometimes maybe more than food, and I am grateful to those, like the Humane Society of Columbiana County in Salem, Ohio, who "get it."

In addition to his care for creatures, St. Francis took a vow of poverty, living among and ministering to the poor and sick. He famously said, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." Maybe he should be the patron saint of pantries, too. 

Read more about St. Francis Blessing Box here:


Feeding the Soul: On Being with Krista Tippett

Some learning can only occur in relationship, so I go to church. For me, it's good for me. Like broccoli. I prefer solitary learning, which is interesting considering the LFP is a massive group work. I particularly prefer solitary spiritual practice. I read religious texts. I run by myself. I spend time in nature alone, often while running. And for the past two years, I listen to the weekly podcast "On Being with Krista Tippett." The iTunes Description of On Being is as follows: 

On Being takes up the big questions of meaning with scientists and theologians, artists and teachers — some you know and others you'll love to meet. Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives.

It's accurate, and I don't really know who I am without it (so I should probably contribute). What prompted this post, though, was the August 31, 2017, episode, a rebroadcast of Krista Tippett's 2008 conversation with the late Irish poet, John O'Donohue. The episode, entitled "The Inner Landscape of Beauty," concluded with his recitation of "Bennacht," included in To Bless the Space Between: A Book of Blessings.

On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.

And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

Post- Hurricane Harvey, while the Pacific Northwest burns, Hurricane Irma (the largest Atlantic hurricane on record) careens toward Florida, Mexico experiences its largest earthquake in a century, and on and on, I needed both this reminder of nature's gentleness and this blessing. I think we all do. 


Steward Stories: "My Hundred-Dollar Bill," by Marla Cantrell

Steward Stories: "My Hundred-Dollar Bill," by Marla Cantrell

Marla Cantrell is an award-winning writer and the managing editor of Do South Magazine. She’s also an Arkansas Arts Council Fellow in Short Fiction. Marla fell in love with The Little Free Pantry when she wrote a story about two pantries in her area that had just opened. She has since become a regular contributor to the Little Free Pantry in Alma, Arkansas, her hometown.

Steward Stories: People's Pantry Cincy, Lisa

Lisa C.Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, and Owner Sound Bites Nutrition, LLC, writes: 

As a dietitian, I’ve always been interested in food justice.  Working in a hospital for years, I witnessed how poverty affected a person’s food intake (or lack thereof).  I’d also traveled to Central America a few times and was deeply affected by the hunger of the people living there.  To know that Cincinnati ranks 2nd in childhood poverty was just not acceptable to me.

This past fall, I stumbled on a Facebook video of a woman in Arkansas that had started a mini food pantry.  It was similar to the mini libraries where you take a book and leave a book if you have one, but with non-perishable food items.  I copied the link, pasted it to my neighborhood Facebook page saying, “I’d love to see this in Pleasant Ridge”, and the dominoes fell.

The next thing I knew, neighbors chimed in that they’d like to help.  A man named Tony said he’d build a pantry.  The Presbyterian church got involved and placed it on their lot.  It was the perfect spot--right on the bus line and across from the neighborhood school.  I watched how the neighbors collaborated and filled it.

I’d heard through a friend about grants being awarded by People’s Liberty, a philanthropic organization in Cincinnati.  I was inspired by the pantry in Pleasant Ridge and wrote a grant to have 10 more food pantries placed in low income, food desert neighborhoods.  To my surprise, I was a finalist and chosen for a grant!  I was over the moon.  I assembled a small team and we got to work in December, 2016.

My friend Jason had a great idea of recycling single copy news boxes into mini pantries.  We’d strip them down, paint and prime them, place new shelves and clean windows and have artists decorate them all differently.  We’d find a champion to reach out to their community to donate non-perishable food and toiletries to the pantry.  First task- finding boxes.

Through a series of phone calls and networking, I made a connection at the Enquirer.  The Enquirer agreed to deliver eight metal boxes to Sean Mullaney- a team member with an art gallery and warehouse.  We worked on the boxes but had one problem.  We had 10 neighborhoods and 8 boxes.  

I’d been in contact with a man in Ashland, Ohio, who was the “keeper of boxes”. He gave me contacts in Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville and Dayton, but no one had boxes to spare.  Dayton was using theirs for little libraries.  “Great” I said, clearly defeated.  

Thank God for social media.  I posted a picture of the Enquirer box and why I needed two more.  After various comments, someone suggested I contact the Cincinnati Herald.  It took a few phone calls before I found 2 boxes we could have.  I could not believe my luck!

We officially have 11 boxes in 10 food desert neighborhoods.  One of the churches we partnered with had a box on site, so we just needed to reconfigure the shelf inside.  What luck! Follow our story.


Steward Stories: Jack

On a Thursday night in August, Jack's entered in a pig wrestling contest.

Jack likes playing with his rabbits, Kelly and Tulip. He likes playing video games and reading. "Amulet" is his favorite series. He writes stories and reads them to other people to make them laugh. He loves exploring mountain woodlands.

All this seems pretty typical for a 10-yr-old boy from Greybull, Wyoming, but Jack is not typical. If you ask him what he likes to do when he's not helping others, in addition to the above, he'll say, "When we go on road trips through cities, I always bring my wallet to give to people on the street."

Jack does yard work, sells t-shirts and popsicles at events, and accepts donations to support his regular charitable work. This year, he is hosting a back-to-school supply giveaway. He buys Christmas presents for kids in foster care...gave away 10 turkey dinners at Christmastime, too. And after being turned away from local food banks for being "too little to help," Jack started his own mini-bank, "Jack's Box." 

Jack's own words when asked why he spends time helping others and why kids should serve:

Hi this is Jack. I would probably say why should anyone in the world mean less than anyone else? We are all equal. Other kids should help because when you help others, it makes you feel awesome to know you helped them and made them smile. Even if you can't start your own box, you can still donate food or money. You can also help if you see someone who is on the street who doesn't have money or food. You can give them some of yours. You should help because God created us all, so we are supposed to take care of each other.

Googling "kids + role models" yields titles like "Top Ten Best Role Models for Kids" and "Why Are Positive Role Models Important for Young Children." My role model is 10-yr-old Jack.

Thank you, Jack.



Steward Stories: Neighbors

What to do when a neighbor takes everything? This was Denise’s question. “It’s hard to put something there for ‘anyone,’ and say, ‘well anyone but this person,’” Denise said.

Folks don’t easily overcome the scarcity mentality of poverty. Seems logical even that those in pervasive need would take everything. But that isn’t the case with this neighbor, who may have been taking items to obstruct. Despite its being in one of the poorest towns in Western Pennsylvania, this part of town is “a relatively nice, safe little neighborhood, the people who live there protective and afraid,” according to Denise. Perhaps the neighbor saw Denise’s church as the nuisance, its ministries inviting the wrong sort—the hungry and sick (NA/AA meeting attendees)—into her buffer zone. She wouldn't be the only one. Denise described the NA/AA meetings as “a [neighborhood] bone of contention.” A week after someone witnessed the neighbor removing items from the pantry, the neighbor witnessed police responding to an attempted robbery of church AV equipment.  

Denise entertained the idea of a camera but did not want to compromise anonymity. Instead, she and others she consulted decided to get to know their neighbor. That meeting did not happen in the way they might have wished.

Delivering LFP donations collected at a community event, Denise pulled up to the project. Someone was already there. She writes, “I kept driving past, as I didn't want to make them feel self-conscious with my arrival. I could see that they were smiling as they took a few things, and my heart was full.” When she came back around the block, the visitors were gone, and the pantry, too, was full—not an inch of room left to put in any of the items she was bringing. She decided to organize the contents.

Someone yelling. "Just take it all!”

Realizing the same neighbor was yelling at her, Denise was stunned. "Excuse me? What did you say?”

"Are you gonna' take all of it home?"

"I don't understand why you're saying this to me.”

"You're takin' stuff home, aren't you?"

"No... I'm with the church and organizing the pantry.”

“Oh," the neighbor said with a dismissive waive of her hand. "You're puttin' stuff in it.”

Denise wasn't dressed up or wearing makeup. Her hair wasn't fixed. She was the wrong sort.

American author, entrepreneur, and marketer Seth Godin writes:

If you’re seeking to create positive change in your community, it’s almost certain you’ll be creating discomfort as well….Usually, when we’re ready to launch something, we say, “This is going to help people. This is well crafted. I’m proud of it.” What’s a lot more difficult (but useful) is to say all of that plus, “and this is going to make (some) people uncomfortable.”

“(Some) people” includes ourselves.

 Note: Those who had been planning to approach the neighbor went over immediately after the incident. They told her if she ever had a need for food or anything else, she just had to say the word and the church would be there for her. When they asked if she had a problem with the pantry, she said no. Since this time, no further incidents have been witnessed or reported. Thank you to Denise for sharing her story and to her pastor for the Godin quote.


With friends like that, who needs strangers?

Yesterday a good friend of mine posted a video to Facebook that sparked lively debate between us. A woman on foot tries to escape the camera. She approaches a car, a Mini Cooper, as if it is hers, then walks away from the car toward a fast food restaurant drive-thru window, where she seeks help from the attendant.  She does not shield her face. A man films her. You do not see him, but his is the most audible presence. Over and over he questions the woman, accuses her. The description of the video reads, “Woman posing as homeless gets exposed.”

People react to panhandling according to their frames. I drive past someone panhandling and am reminded to practice gratitude for what I have. I choose trust and grace, not least because it makes me feel good. Others frame differently.

This post isn’t really about panhandling, though. Or about mine and my friend’s lively debate. It’s about what she said near the end of the thread, “Thanks for not deleting me over this.”

“Really?” I said.

Social media makes it easy to build walls around ourselves. Our opinions, even if well-informed, just echo. Folks who panhandle have no walls; they are figuratively “exposed” to the comment, critique, judgment of everyone who drives past them. No option to block, unfriend, delete the “panhandler." For that reason alone the activity adds value to our individual and collective moral conscience. We surely cheat ourselves when we block, unfriend, delete to avoid respectful, difficult conversations and thinking.

I said, "Really?!!" like it was so hard to believe when I've done it myself.

Blessing BOX

This morning, Blessing BOX's Facebook page featured images of its pantry at different times of day, proof it's being used. Also proof it's being stocked by others not directly connected with the project. I remember how great that proof felt. We all know people are in need but struggle with faith in those same people. Or with faith that anyone cares enough to respond to that need at personal cost of time or money or effort. Yes. I remember.

This morning also, I got a call from someone asking about a mutual friend of ours who's been absent from social media for some time now. I explained her family is selling its home, and the transaction became complicated--that, likely, my friend, being sensitive and stressed, was limiting exposure to the negativity EVERYWHERE on social media. I can't say I blame her. People across the political spectrum can seem so mean. of the reasons why the Blessing BOX post was a blessing to me this morning. At the macro-level, it may be hard to see, but locally, people do have faith in other people. People re-affirm that faith. Next time you need proof, check out what The Van's doing in Central Arkansas. Its mission is "to locate and love our unsheltered, homeless neighbors," and its motto is "No rules. No apologies. Just help." People are wonderful.

Post-______, What Will We Do?

Last night, my home church, Good Shepherd Lutheran, hosted an ecumenical evening of Prayer and Worship in Light of Orlando. The sanctuary was full of people seeking strength, consolation, reconciliation, peace, etc. in the wake of the worst mass shooting in US history, an evil motivated by hatred of the LGBTQ community. Today, I don’t feel strong, consoled, reconciled, or peaceful about what happened. But I do feel grateful and proud that GSLC intentionally provided a space for people to be together, to feel the power and potential of loving community. I also acknowledge it had to be the spirit’s work that GSLC would wrestle with our welcome statement, full-inclusion, and ultimately become Reconciling in Christ BEFORE Orlando so that last night we could be that space. 

We still have work to do. Only a person who attended Sunday night’s vigil at St. Paul’s Episcopal AND St. James’ vigil almost a year ago post-Charleston would be aware of the vast local support for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters over our Black brothers and sisters. Nearly all the people at St. James were members of that church. Only a handful of us were white. I won’t attempt to unpack all that. I will ask the question, post-Orlando, post-Charleston, what will we do now to love our neighbor?