This article appeared in the May 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
The Athens’ Little Free Pantry is made possible by a numerous public and private partners.
The Athens Area Chamber of Commerce program, L.E.A.D. Athens, opened its very first Little Free Pantry in March, allowing the community to share surplus food and personal care items to individuals in need.
Athens’ Little Free Pantry offers everyday items including nonperishable foods and other personal care items, like toothpaste, detergent or paper towels, in a small, compact pantry. The first pantry is just outside of the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce on Hancock Ave. These small wooden boxes are attached to posts that are planted in the ground and have been compared to the familiar design of Little Free Libraries.
“Overall, the goal is to reduce food insecurity in our city and help those in need feel a little more normal with everyday items that most take for granted,” said Denise Plemmons, Program Support Analyst for the Athens-Clarke Country Economic Development Department, who leads the Little Free Pantry initiative. “It also gives people in the local community neighborhoods, who want to donate, the chance to give to their neighbors in need.”
In high poverty areas, like Athens, Plemmons believes the Little Free Pantry is a safety net for those who are not able to meet everyday food and personal needs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate in Clarke County has remained around 40 percent over the last few years. This is more than double the rate in 2000. Similar to food banks, the Little Free Pantry will help to satisfy the needs of these families. But unlike traditional food banks that have restrictive hours, these pantries can be accessed 24/7—there’s a door on the front of the pantry, but no lock.
“The pantries also offer anonymity, which can help diminish the shame associated with asking for help,” Plemmons said.
More than 50 communities across the country including ones in Kansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Kentucky, Florida and Minnesota have experienced success with their Little Free Pantries, also known as “yard-based” food pantries.
Several community businesses joined together to make Athens’ first food pantry possible including Inglett & Stubbs, Brasfield & Gorrie and DPR Construction. The University of Georgia Athletic Department, HW Creative Marketing, The Sign Brothers and Georgia Power have also sponsored this project.
“We’re very excited to bring this concept to Athens. This pantry will be the first of many, and we encourage everyone to make contributions,” said Plemmons. “Take what you need, leave what you can. The Little Free Pantry is simply neighbors helping neighbors.”