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Tiny Pantries, Big Love

Tiny Pantries, Big Love

A little bit of love goes a long way
at tiny but mighty food pantries

“Take what you need, leave what you can.” That is Destiny Potter’s motto for “Van Buren’s Little Free Pantry,” which she established in her own front yard earlier this year.

The simple wooden cabinet contains only two shelves and a glass door, mounted on a post. Destiny stocks it each morning, afternoon and evening with nonperishable food and some basic hygiene items and leaves it open 24/7 to benefit anyone who is hungry.

“The pantry enables individuals to get what they need, whether it is just for one meal or enough to sustain them for a few days,” she explained. “I have witnessed some pull out only one can of soup, and I have watched others take multiple items home to feed their families. The point is they can do it without having to meet any guidelines or experience any shame or embarrassment from having to fill out forms.”

Destiny’s motivation for starting the project stems from her own experiences as a child. Growing up, her family relied heavily on local food banks and churches for meals.

“It was a good day when we got to go the church pantry,” recalled Destiny. As an adult, she was inspired by a similar pantry in Northwest Arkansas and decided to establish one to benefit children in her own neighborhood. Word of Van Buren’s Little Free Pantry has spread quickly. As more people have begun to utilize it, there has also been a swell of community support.

“The growth and success of the pantry has been both very exciting and extremely sad,” said Destiny. “It is emptied countless times each day. As soon as several items are removed, a member of our community stops by to replace the missing items. I know this is totally a God deal. I am not making this successful, God is providing through an empty box I placed in my yard.”

Destiny has encountered a few skeptics who suggest some will take advantage of the pantry. She insists that the project, which operates entirely on the honor system, is meeting an important need and being used as it is intended.

“I spoke with a man who told me his money runs out on the 25th of each month. For that last week, he struggles to feed his family and often gets breakfast, lunch and dinner for them out of there. I have told him that is what the pantry is for, but he insists on paying it back when he can,” she said. “ That same man who counts on it at the end of the month, showed up with seven bags of groceries to help replace what he took.”

When giving to a tiny pantry such as hers, Destiny suggests items such as canned tuna or chicken, soup and canned pastas.

“I encourage donors to think of things they cook at home and then buy enough supplies for two meals. Families taking from the pantry want to make meals just like we do. Things like spaghetti sauce, pasta and boxes of Hamburger Helper are almost always taken first.”

The pantry project has evolved into a sort of movement throughout the region, with new sites popping up in Van Buren and Fort Smith. After learning about it on Facebook, Barbie Johnson decided to establish a standalone pantry at Creekmore Park. A similar sentiment is echoed on what has become known as “The Little Red Box,” reading, “Whether you have a need or want to sow a seed, the community pantry is for you.”

Barbie’s project has been aided by dedicated volunteers Jayme and Valan Collins who, through the power of social media, have helped raise awareness about the pantries.

In high-traffic Creekmore Park, this pantry goes from full to empty to full again almost hourly, Barbie said. A tribe of kind donors is growing on its Facebook page titled the “Little Red Box” AKA “Community Pantry.”

“It takes more than one person, it takes the community,” Barbie noted. She recognizes that many have been blessed by the project, including those who help keep it stocked. Donors include moms bringing children over after swim practice to deliver items and cancer patients who say that the highlight of their day is giving to the pantry.

“There is so much joy in giving,” noted Barbie.

Destiny is proud of how her project’s influence has spread, but she isn’t stopping there. For Thanksgiving, she has invited pantry partakers to join her family for a traditional holiday feast. A sign-up sheet in the pantry encourages visitors to dine at her house on Thanksgiving Day. No name is required, just an expected total attending so Destiny can make sure she has enough supplies on hand.

“I plan on eating all day with my community members. I want to love them, or should I say, let them know they are already loved.”

– By Brittany Ransom

Link: How to contribute to fight hunger in our area

This story appears in the November 2016 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online