Monday, September 12, 2016

Bridging the Hunger Gap - Little Free Pantries

by Lindsay Fujimoto, Hunger-Free Pierce County VISTA

As a parent, imagine watering down your family’s food in the hopes that it’ll last you until the next time you can get to a food pantry or afford to get groceries. As an older sibling, imagine trying to help your family by working a part-time job on top of going to school and still not being able to afford enough food. As a child, imagine going to bed early to try to ignore your hunger. For over 122,000 people in Pierce County, including children, that is not their imagination. That is their reality.

Families use these various coping mechanisms but are still left wondering how they are going to make it through the month. The fact is that that food insecurity is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it is persistent. It does not go away just because you have to go to work during the day, and it does not make itself known only during the hours the local food pantry is open. Most food resources only operate for a limited amount of hours per week, which is just a fraction of time that people might be hungry.

One woman in Arkansas started working to find a way to bridge that hunger gap through Little Free Pantries. Little Free Pantries are unique in that they provide a 24/7 solution to a 24/7 problem. Additionally, by installing Little Free Pantries throughout the community, families who have difficulty accessing food—whether it be because of work hours restricting their access to pantries, no transportation to food resources, or a number of other barriers—now have an accessible local resource. The United Way of Pierce County is working with our community partners to bring this innovative and creative idea to Pierce County.

One of our hunger partners, Harvest House, implemented the first Little Free Pantry in Pierce County. Harvest House also houses the food pantry closest to the heart of Graham on Saturdays, with the next closest food resource located nearly 3 miles from Graham. Realizing the impact that a Little Free Pantry could have on their community, Harvest House received an overwhelmingly positive response from their board, volunteers, and supporters to start their own. This positive response quickly translated into support for constructing the pantry and Harvest House’s Little Free Pantry was up and running successfully soon after.

Harvest House’s goal for their Little Free Pantry is to “ensure that some food is available 24/7.” To do so, they aim to provide non-perishable proteins, snacks, and beverages. Sometimes, fresh produce like apples, bananas, and oranges are added. Harvest House has also engages their community in supporting the Little Free Pantry as they posted the phrase, “If you need some food, please take some. If you have some to share, please feel free to leave some,” on their pantry. The community in turn is very supportive of the Little Free Pantry, and as such, actively add new donations to the shelves.

Since Little Free Pantries are available 24/7 it can be challenging to assess who is using it, but Harvest House have made observations that indicate that they are reaching those in need. For example, individuals who use public transportation, which is fairly limited in Graham, often have to go far distances to get to their station. Some pedestrians will grab a bottle of water and a bite to eat on the journey, a healthy and nourishing snack that they may not have had otherwise.

The United Way of Pierce County is excited to join Harvest House in their vision of ensuring that no person goes hungry. Looking to the future, we are eager to get the ball rolling on installing additional Little Free Pantries. We believe that in working together to implement innovative solutions like Little Free Pantries, we can end hunger for the thousands of food insecure individuals in our community.

To find out how to get involved in a Little Free Pantry project, email me at

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