Little Free Pantries Pop Up in Spokane Neighborhoods as a way to combat hunger on the streets.
“Do you have a can opener?” the kind volunteer asked as a man with a timeworn face and tattered clothing entered the door. He shook his head no. She smiled as she motioned towards the shopping carts and took the time to gracefully share how it works as she thanked him for coming. Although he did not respond, his eyes said it all. They shifted from empty to full, just like his stomach would soon be.
As he navigated through the aisles, he chose any food he wanted. She watched as he avoided the canned food, perhaps because he didn’t know that she had snuck a can opener into his bag.
This man had found his way to the Caritas Food Bank after walking by something that caught his eye. It was a wooden house in the front yard of a home he had walked by hundreds of times. It had just popped up so he opened the door out of curiosity and inside it was filled with food, something he hadn’t seen or tasted in days. Nonperishable food was readily available with a note that said fresh produce, dairy and meat is waiting for you at 1228 W. Nebraska Ave. His journey that day details the mission of Caritas Outreach Ministries and Free Little Pantries.
Free Little Pantries (LFPs) is a grassroots effort to fill the gap in our food system, ensuring that there is access to food 365 days a year. LFPs are popping up all around the country, and the Inland Northwest has taken this mission to heart. Spokane has 20 locations and counting. The creators of the LFP movement were inspired by the Little Free Libraries that have been appearing in neighborhoods for years. While picking up a used book while you’re out may seem like a luxury, these pantries fill a deep need. The model works in tandem with local food banks across the country to ensure that everyone has access to this fundamental need without other barriers to entry such as transportation. The simple concept of a pantry filled with anything from cereal, pasta, soup, canned vegetables, fruit snacks to water bottles has the power to revolutionize food insecurity. Globally this grassroots movement encourages neighbors to engage with one another to fill the neighborhood needs, literally.
Community members from every corner of the city have come together to gather, build and fill each LFP to assist the larger efforts of local food banks. For Caritas, Board member Bob Walker says “the reason for building Little Free Pantries geographically developed a deeper meaning to our Mission.” Traditionally, they have primarily served Northeast Spokane but with this project they found themselves outside of their typical footprint. He shared “as they became installed and people were becoming aware of them we started getting phone calls — do you know anything about little free pantries?” They have assisted in many of the other builds and are pleased to say that they are happy to provide any information to anyone looking to build or host one.
Caritas built these so that they could drive traffic from Northeast Spokane to their foodbank because a gorgeous head of nutritious lettuce cannot last in an LFP. Bob and the rest of Caritas have a heart to serve, and this is just one of the ways they have found a meaningful way to do just that. Although Caritas has helped lead this charge locally, other churches and food banks have joined forces. Now that the momentum has taken off, Caritas is no longer looking to build additional LFPs but instead are happy to be a resource for anyone inspired to build their own.
One of Bob’s most touching moments so far was when “one of the ladies said she went to check on one of our pantries to see how much more it needed and found a My Little Pony that a little girl put in there for someone else that might need it.” This mission is about much more than food. It is about engaging communities to take little actions that make a big impact. For more information or to get involved, visit caritasoutreachministries.org or www.littlefreepantry.org.
Written by Morgan Marie
This story first appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Edible Inland Northwest