Little Free Pantries
Editor’s Note: Benji Astrachan from Washington State University (WSU) Clallam County Extension, submitted this guest blog in support of OCH’s campaign ”Plant Hope, Grow Resilience”. WSU Clallam County Extension provides a variety of ways for the community to gain reliable research-based nutrition, food preservation, and food safety information.
What can we do to tackle food insecurity locally?
How can we build compassion and radical trust in our community between people of all different backgrounds?
What are barriers to food access that need to be addressed in new ways?
How can we make real change, and make it exciting, fun, genuine and supportive?
These were some of the guiding questions that kickstarted Clallam County’s Little Free Pantry program in mid 2019, and these same questions are what continues to successfully propel this program forward. After a local community group named Compassion Clallam County decided to address food insecurity, and started partnering with the WSU Clallam Extension office, the Little Free Pantry (LFP) program was developed to create grassroots food systems change.
Operating on a ‘take what you need, leave what you can’ model of radical trust and neighborly compassion, these colorful and ultra-accessible mini food pantries can be installed anywhere. They help a community overcome some of the major hurdles people face when seeking emergency food relief, such as paperwork and legal documentation, stigma around food banks and free food, scheduling and availability conflicts, etc. In contrast, Little Free Pantries can be used by anyone, at any time of the day or night, every day of the year, without any formal registration, reservation, demonstration of need, … or anything else, really.
The whole idea is to make food really and truly available to anyone.
When the pandemic struck in March of 2020, there was one LFP already up and running in Port Angeles. Within a month, our network had more than half a dozen pantries across the county. Through a Builder’s Day co-organized with the Port Angeles Farmers Market, we were able to build 6 LFP’s on one of the last weekends before emergency closures, social distancing, and assembly bans rendered such an event impossible. The pandemic has shown how extremely important this style of decentralized and highly-accessible food systems are to supporting a community through crisis. Interest in the program soared, and we rapidly built basic processes for recruiting and supporting new site hosts, getting materials donated and constructed, troubleshooting our pantry blueprint to meet weather and sustainability needs, and raising community awareness and support.
Now, in Clallam County, we have 14 LFP’s, from Sequim and Port Angeles out to Beaver, Forks, and the Hoh Nation.
We’ve embraced the spontaneous and playful nature of these pantries, with different designs and decorations to match their surrounding neighborhoods and users. Most pantries get emptied on a daily basis and are refilled just as quickly by a mix of program volunteers, supportive neighbors and good-hearted passerby. Our pantry hosts include faith groups, healthcare clinics, other social service providers, farms, neighbor groups, and individuals with open hearts and open arms. We’re also working with similar LFP networks from Seattle and Tacoma to Yakima and Spokane, to coordinate our efforts and share resources at a state level.
With Little Free Pantries, we have found ways to meet our community where they are. We engage people of all demographics and bring the complexity of food insecurity down to a simple act of sharing and caring; we strive to be compassionate and trusting of one another without judgement or bias; and we acknowledge the difficulties of not just life in the pandemic, but even daily life with its many stresses and struggles. Little Free Pantries have been bringing people together under the simple standard that ‘everyone eats’ , and with many new sites currently in the works across the North Olympic Peninsula, we won’t be stopping this important work any time soon.
Olympic Community of Health is inspired by WSU Clallam County Extension's commitment to community health. Innovative and collaborative projects like Little Free Pantries are making a meaningful impact within the Olympic region. Keep up the great work!
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