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.