'Little Free Pantries' Pop Up Around the World to Help People Who Can't Afford Food
Food insecurity affects over 4 million people living in Canada — but Little Free Pantries are here to help.
The Little Free Pantry project was launched by Jessica McClard in May 2016, when she installed the first mini pantry on her church’s property in Arkansas.
She had come up with the idea after noticing that Little Free Library boxes were popping up around town. She was also involved in poverty justice work at the time, so she was aware of local food insecurity issues.
She put the two ideas together and Little Free Pantry was born, receiving an “immediate and overwhelmingly positive” response from her community.
“You don’t have to have a lot of time or a lot of money to give back in that way, and I think it opens up a lot of space for lots of different people to be involved,” McClard told Global Citizen. “I believed it could be something that would catch.”
And catch it did, as the boxes have not only spread across the US, but can now be found in Canada, too.
“I always loved feeding people — I have since I was little,” Margot Baker, who has a Little Library-Little Pantry combo on her property in Calgary, told Global Citizen.
She installed her Little Free Pantry in September 2017. A mother of two, Baker believed it would be a good example for her children and would teach them about the importance of giving back and being mindful of their community.
“There’s a real need for it in the neighbourhood, and I don’t like the thought of kids being hungry,” she said. “There’s so much extra, and there’s so much that can be done, why should anybody go hungry? For a few extra bucks a month, why can’t I help?”
Food insecurity is, in fact, a significant issue in Canada.
PROOF, a team dedicated to researching food insecurity in Canada, reported that 1 in 8 households in Canada were food insecure in 2012. This accounted for 4 million people, including 1.15 million children.
Food Banks Canada also reported that people visited food banks 1.1 million times in March 2018 alone, and that 35% of the people depending on food banks are children.
“Demand is always going to outsource supply,” McClard said.
While Little Free Pantries don't tackle or solve the root causes of food insecurity, the project could complement the help people receive from food banks, and they could minimize some of the anxiety people feel about visiting local food banks. They could also alleviate the stress of actually having to get to food banks, Baker pointed out.
Not everyone responded to the Little Free Pantries as positively as McClard’s community.
Baker has struggled to get people involved in the project, and a church in Brantford decided to remove their pantry as they experienced vandalism and wanted to be able to make sure the food was distributed fairly, so they decided to donate to the Brantford Food Bank instead.
But McClard said various forms of media have played positive roles in helping to expand the project, as people hear about it and are inspired to give back or get involved.
Today, there are more than 650 Little Free Pantries in countries including the US, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands.