For more than a decade people have been erecting community book exchanges called Little Free Libraries around the world. The colorful cabinets, which often look like giant bird houses, are typically filled with used books donated by people living in the area. But an organization based out of Arkansas known as Little Free Pantry has taken the idea to a new level by turning the cabinets into small, neighborhood food pantries, the Washington Post reports.
Just like a Little Free Library, the makeshift food pantries are filled by members of the community with supplies such as canned soup, canned tuna, and pasta. People who are food insecure can then take what they need from the cabinet. Roughly 40 million people in the U.S. live in a household that’s considered food insecure, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s 2017 report on food security, while nearly 10 million people fall into the category of low food security — meaning that they ration their food intake and rely on food pantries in emergencies.
While Little Free Pantries aren’t a replacement for traditional food pantries, they do play an important role for people in short-term distress. As the organization’s website points out, some food pantries have barriers to entry such as applications for use and set hours of operation; in contrast, the Little Free Pantries are available round-the-clock and don’t require that users supply any personal information. They also reduce feelings of stigma associated with visiting a food pantry.
Since opening the first Little Free Pantry in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in May 2016, more than 600 cabinets have popped up around the U.S. and around the world. The organization, founded by Jessica McClard, provides the information on how to set up and build a Little Free Pantry. They typically cost a few hundred dollars to start. People are then encouraged to stock non-perishable food items as well as toiletries and school supplies.
Americans tend to only think about donating food around the holidays or in times of crisis, but these neighborhood pantries could also serve as a year-round reminder that people always need something to eat.