Little Free Libraries offer neighborhoods a way to nurture souls, and now Little Free Pantries offer a way to fill empty stomachs.
Sponsored by Caritas Outreach Ministries, and made possible by funding from Spokane Rotary 21 Club, Little Free Pantries are springing up in neighborhoods in northwest Spokane.
Since 1993, Caritas and its 16 supporting churches, has partnered with local agencies to provide food, bus passes, fuel vouchers and other necessities to those in need.
“We use the pantries as satellite locations with 24/7 access,” said Kelsie Rowland, Caritas operations manager. “This helps people who struggle with transportation or work schedules that prevent them from getting to our main location. We also post our contact information to connect people to more services.”
On Thursday, Rowland brought a milk crate full of peanut butter, canned chili and dried beans to the newest pantry near Shadle Park Presbyterian Church. Though the pantry had been stocked two days prior, the shelves were already mostly bare.
“We make a commitment to stock them once a week, but we encourage the supporting church and local neighborhood to contribute when they’re able.” Rowland said.
The pantries offer accessible, no-questions-asked help.
“There are no restrictions, no proof of address or ID required which breaks barriers for the food insecure,” she said.
The “take what you need, leave what you can” philosophy also offers a way for neighbors to help each other.
Shadle Park Presbyterian pastor, Steven Lympus was delighted to find the Little Free Food Pantry installed next to the church’s Little Free Library when he returned from a recent sabbatical.
Newly-planted fruit trees, sprouting just behind the pantry and library will eventually augment the church’s community garden.
“The coolest thing I’ve heard about the pantry is that a neighbor who isn’t a church member, regularly stocks it,” Lympus said. “We’ve been trying to be more connected to the neighborhood and this gives us another way to do that.”
Giving guidelines and suggestions are posted in each pantry.
“Nothing in glass jars,” said Rowland. “Peanut butter goes fast and so do boxed meals like Hamburger Helper. We know kids use the pantries, so things like granola bars and fruit snacks are always needed.”
Caritas also supports Little Free Pantries at St. Andrew’s Episcopal and St. Francis of Assisi churches, and Fowler United Methodist in the Garland District has a pantry that’s independent of the organization.
The nonprofit will also partner with individuals.
Rowland has a pantry in front of her home near the Mann-Grandstaff Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Spokane.
“I saw a tiny little girl taking items out and putting them in her tote bag,” Rowland said. “A few minutes later she came back and left something.”
When Rowland checked the pantry she found a small plastic dinosaur.
Caritas volunteer and board chair Bob Walker said when he made the pitch for funding to Rotary 21 he was asked about potential vandalism. He’s happy to report there have been no incidents of vandalism or destruction at the four pantries they operate.
“There’s been nothing scattered or spilled,” he said. “They just get used.”
The pantries also stock nonfood items like toothbrushes, first-aid kits and socks.
Caritas’s service area spans 26 square miles, north of Montgomery Avenue, west of Division Street, south of Hawthorne Road and the Nine Mile Falls ZIP code within Spokane County.
More Little Food Pantries are in the works, and Rowland was recently reminded of their importance.
“A woman left a note in the pantry at St. Francis,” she said.
The woman had been walking through the neighborhood, praying for God to help her feed her family. She looked up and saw the pantry.
“I couldn’t believe how big a sign God gave me,” she wrote. “I was crying and so hungry. There is 12 people and then some in our house. So thank you!”
Notes like that coupled with the quickly-emptied pantries demonstrate how great the need is.
“A box of Tuna Helper might be just that little bit needed to help a family make it to the end of another month,” said Rowland.
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