A great giving opportunity: Micro food pantries

One of the niftier ideas to gain traction in recent years has been the micro pantry movement. We now have about 20 of these miniature food pantries scattered around our community – including one we just installed this year at our church.

Micro food pantries operate on a simple premise: “Take what you need. Leave what you can.” There are no sign-ups and no strings attached. If we are in need, micro pantries are there for us. And if we’re extra-blessed, we can help someone else.

The micro pantry movement provides another source of help for those who may be too embarrassed to seek assistance from a traditional food pantry, those who feel intimidated by the bureaucratic paperwork involved in receiving assistance from a government program, or those who don’t quite qualify for public assistance but are still strapped for cash between paychecks.

These little pantries – which have begun to pop up in communities all over the country – have also provided a wonderful low-contact, high-impact way for neighbors to help neighbors during the pandemic when more traditional, face-to-face volunteer activities have posed too much of a health risk.

Our church built our own micro pantry this year. About the size of a large kitchen cabinet, it turned out to be fairly easy to construct. Click HERE for a link to the design and instructions we used.

We placed it in a well-lit area next to the sidewalk leading up to one of our front entrances. People can safely access it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no questions asked. Congregation members are encouraged to bring items and help keep it filled.

Once our little pantry was built, here are some examples of nonperishable items that have made great micro pantry offerings.

  • Fixings for sandwiches: Bread, peanut butter, jelly, canned tuna, canned chicken, mustard, mayo, pickle relish.
  • Canned goods: Soups and stews, chili, fruits and vegetables, potatoes or yams, corn, baked beans, jars of baby food.
  • Canned or nonperishable meats: Tuna, chicken, Spam, sardines, Hormel Compleats.
  • Boxed meal kits: Macaroni and cheese, mixes such as Hamburger Helper, pasta noodles and pasta sauces.
  • Other shelf-stable foods: Rice, dried beans, Ramen noodles, instant mashed potatoes, powdered milk, evaporated milk, powdered eggs.
  • Breakfast items: Dry cereal, prepackaged instant oatmeal, fruit juice, fruit cups, shelf-stable breakfast pastries.
  • Healthy snack foods: Crackers, granola or cereal bars, trail mix, peanuts, almonds or any nuts, P3 protein packs, jerky.

We also like to put items in our micro pantry that people can’t buy using SNAP benefits.

  • Grooming supplies: Toilet paper, shampoo and conditioner, body soap, disposable razors, toothpaste and toothbrushes, tampons or pads, baby wipes.
  • Cleaning supplies: Dish soap, laundry soap, bleach, sponges, paper towels.
  • Disposable face masks. I’ve ordered them online in boxes of 50 and put them in plastic sandwich bags in batches of 5 or 10 per bag.
  • Pet food: I sometimes even like to leave a little something for Fido or Fluffy – small cans or packages of dog or cat food.

When contributing items for the pantry, I like to leave a combination of small serving/individual-size items for single individuals, and larger economy-size items for families.

I’ve also repurposed those little packets containing napkins and plastic silverware that come in to-go restaurant orders. That way, homeless people who avail themselves of food in the pantry have something to eat it with. The sample-size soap and shampoo picked up from hotel rooms are perfect as well.

Our church’s little pantry has been getting well-used and it has been a fairly easy project for our community service committee to maintain.

Perhaps just as importantly, it has provided a great way for my husband and I and other congregation members to keep contributing to our community despite quarantining and other restrictions imposed by this endless pandemic.

This adds up to a win-win situation for everyone, giver and receiver alike.

16 thoughts on “A great giving opportunity: Micro food pantries

  1. I love this idea. Even if we think of food banks as “no strings attached,” this way is truly no strings and full dignity for people who need it. Love the idea of packaging for individuals and families as well.

    Liked by 2 people

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