A truly life-changing idea: The Little Free Pantry movement

We spoke with Little Free Pantry founder Jessica McClure about connecting with neighbors, and creating healthier communities.

Little Free Pantries. The Little Free Pantry | Facebook

As a registered nurse and someone who has long cared about social justice issues and helping others, Jessica McClure has always been very aware of how food insecurity can negatively impact health among the working poor. But it wasn’t until she took a short jog to her local Little Free Library that Jessica realized she could do something about it. Free books were great, she thought, but what if there were a way to mimic these Little Free Library set ups, except with food and toiletries to serve others instead of literature? And it was in that moment that the Little Free Pantry (LFP) was born.

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Today, Little Free Pantries have sprung up across the country and the world, offering neighbors everything from school supplies and after-school to feminine hygiene products to quick meals to a good old-fashioned cup of sugar.

However, McClard is quick to correct those who call her Little Free Pantry project a “charity.” For good reason. The Little Free Pantry is not ultimately about hand-outs. It’s about community, and reciprocity.

“Both sides of the ‘transaction’ give and receive something,” McClard, a wife and mother of two, says. “Really, the project’s true impact is in its ability to forge a sense of community. I believe it’s because we are all hungry for re-connection to our neighbors that both concepts [the Little Free Library and the Little Free Pantry] went viral. The fact they both address larger social issues is secondary.”

Those who care for their neighbors remind me to have faith and trust in people.”

McClard offers examples of this community-creation: One woman used her local LFP to organize a community Thanksgiving meal. In another town, homeowners came together to change an ordinance specifically to allow the set up of LFPs. One wealthy neighborhood in Australia uses the pantry to share their own homemade jams with one another! In each instance, the Little Free Pantries give neighbors an opportunity to work together for the common good, and even recipe swap. As the movement grows across the globe, the various types of LFPs continue to morph based on each community’s need.

In fact, the assumption of the “good” in people plays a central role in the success of these pantries. McClard says that the “most frequently-cited concern is that one person will come along and take everything.” According to McClard, that fear isn’t totally of base: “People do come along and take everything!” But these incidents are few and far between, and the hope is that regardless of how much is taken, it’s helping others. “Assuming people are good, they take everything because they are in need. This is exactly what the pantry is for.”

#littlefreepantry #coloradocity Crafty!

A photo posted by The Little Free Pantry (@littlefreepantry) on

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While the aim is to change the lives of others, McClard knows this idea changer her life for the better, too.

“ I fet called to serve in this way … and the LFP project is the greatest gift of my life,” she says. “The LFP has given me the confidence to be bold, to take risks, to live liturgically … That I am in receipt of these gifts re-affirms both my faith and trust in God. Because I am contacted daily by those who care for their neighbors, I am reminded to also have faith and trust in people.”

McClard hopes others who give to (or take from) Little Free Pantries feel the same way. She says she has intentionally given the LFP Facebook page a poster board feel “so that the larger LFP community might also be regularly inspired an uplifted.”

Beyond that, McClard hopes the Little Free Pantry movement will “continue to spread, to ‘feed’ people, and to re-connect neighbors through shared work. I am committed to facilitating these things for the life of the initiative and look forward to where that might lead me.” That’s an idea we can all get behind.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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