What I realized is that we really DO have time if we make it, and we don’t have to do it “alone” if we just ask others for help.
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.
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.
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.
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.