By Becky Nicovich
In October 2021, a Little Free Pantry was installed on the campus of Harmony Grove UMC in Lilburn. For those unfamiliar with the Little Free Pantry concept, it is based on the Little Free Library® model, except the box is stocked with food and hygiene items instead of books. And though the box "lives" on the church campus, it belongs to the community. Anyone is welcome to take items from the box and anyone is welcome to place items in the box. The box is accessible 24/7. There are no forms to fill out and no conditions to meet, just take what you need and give what you can.
The location of the Harmony Grove UMC Little Free Pantry box was advertised on social media and registered with the Little Free Pantry (https://www.littlefreepantry.org/) website. The website maintains a searchable database of all registered pantry boxes. The Harmony Grove box was initially stocked with food and hygiene items donated by church members and preschool families. Within a week or so items began to be taken from the box. And soon, items placed in the box by the church began to be supplemented by donations from outside the church community — neighbors helping neighbors.
On a couple of occasions, visitors to the box have expressed their gratitude for the items made available via the pantry. One visitor especially appreciated the anonymity the box provided. This person found themselves in unfamiliar circumstances and unable to comfortably secure food through "brick and mortar"food pantries. The Little Free Pantry allowed them to obtain the food they needed and retain their "pride" as they so kindly expressed in a note written on the back of a scrap piece of paper and left in the pantry box. “Take what you need, give what you can” is the mantra of the Little Free Pantry model.
The free pantry movement was launched in May 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when Jessica McClard planted a wooden box on a post and filled it with food, personal care, and paper items accessible to everyone all the time. A little more than a month later a Blessing Box was installed in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and by August 2016 the Little Free Pantry movement was global. The grassroots mini pantry movement continues growing and moving. There is no "organization" in charge of the movement. It is simply a group of people who see their neighbors’ struggles and feel called to do something to help.
Building plans for pantry boxes as well as other helpful resources are available on the littlefreepantry.org website to assist individuals or organizations interested in setting up a pantry. The plans are simply provided as a resource. The website also has a map showing all the pantries registered with the site so you can easily see whether or not your area is already being served.
The Harmony Grove UMC congregation has a long history of mission work. In the past, when a need was identified our congregation could always be depended upon to step up to help. During the pandemic, we turned inward at first, with a focus on keeping ourselves healthy and safe. The Little Free Pantry is providing the opportunity for us to turn outward once again and minister to our local area. It also provides an opportunity for neighbors outside our congregation to help as well. Neighbors helping neighbors — what a wonderful thing indeed.
Becky Nicovich is a member of Harmony Grove UMC.