The Little Free Pantry: Helping to fight hunger in Dare County

Published 9:04 am Friday, June 18, 2021

Time and time again, the Outer Banks community has stepped up and worked together to provide for those in need. This story is no different. Now stationed in the front yard of Kitty Hawk United Methodist Church (KHUMC) is “The Little Free Pantry,” a mini pantry containing donated food and supplies that members of the community can pick up for free at any time.

Many in the area have seen or heard about the “Little Free Libraries” that are scattered throughout the Outer Banks towns. The “take a book, leave a book” concept has been working for quite some time now so that residents and visitors alike can enjoy books without having to pay for them. The Little Free Pantry concept follows this model, with food and goods in place of books.

Glenn Riggins, one of the several Little Free Pantry organizers, shared that the idea had actually been born after reading a book with his Bible study group, known as the KHUMC Cornerstone Small Group. The collective has been meeting together for almost the past five years to discuss readings and address important life lessons. Their most recent read, “Love Does” by Bob Goff, challenged its readers to believe and practice their faith by putting it to action.

“We ruminated on that for a while,” said Riggins, “and thought about problems that we could help solve, and one that was close to our groups heart was hunger.”

For several years, the group has worked closely with Pastor Gina Miller of Saint John’s Church in Avon. Miller has been running a mini food bank of sorts at the parish; Riggins and the other members of his group have been collecting and driving down food to help keep things going for the community down south.

Ed Kitchen, another participant in this project and member of the Cornerstone Small Group, explained that the group had done their research and found a national mini food pantry model that serves over 900 locations in the United States, and twice that around the world. With Miller’s successful project as a guide and the national model to go off of, the group took on the challenge head-first and worked to find a way to combat hunger on the north end of Dare County.

“When we were discussing ideas on how to put faith into action, the scariest issue that came up and surprised us was that we have 12% food insecure issues in Dare County,” Kitchen shared. That is approximately 4,200 food insecure people, of which 1,100 are children.

Fully aware of the impact that the local food banks and food pantries have on the community today, Kitchen and Riggins both noted that this project is not in competition with either organization. Rather, it is to serve those in need during the “gap period” – the period at the end of the month where food stamps are in low supply and families need to put food on the table; the period where some have fallen through the cracks.

Once the idea blossomed and plans were made, Riggins got to work on constructing the stand and mini house with shelving and a window-paned door. Mary Kitchen, with the help of the Cornerstone Small Group, designed and decorated the pantry, accenting the structure with bright colors and words of comfort and affirmation.

pantry

Danielle Puleo photo

Opening earlier this month for those in need, the Little Free Pantry is located at 803 W. Kitty Hawk Road in Kitty Hawk. It will be available to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Restocking is currently being taken care of by members of the Cornerstone Small Group. Volunteers and those looking to serve the community are welcome to reach out and stock the pantry as needed.

“The Little Free Pantry is open to everyone with no requirement, this is about neighbors helping neighbors. If someone needs something, they should take it. Everyone needs a little help once in a while,” said Kitchen.

The group has invited community members to donate food and supplies to help maintain the mini pantry. Suggested items for donation include, but are not limited to:

  • Shelf-stable milk
  • Juice, iced tea, coffee
  • Cereal and oatmeal (single servings)
  • Pancake mix and syrup (add water only variety)
  • Granola and breakfast bars
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Pasta and sauce
  • Instant rice and potatoes
  • Soup
  • Canned meats and fish
  • Heat and serve meals
  • Ramen noodles
  • Beef jerky
  • Nuts, dehydrated fruit
  • Applesauce, canned fruit
  • Microwave cake/brownie mix
  • Jell-O, pudding cups
  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Baby food
  • Toddler snack crackers, puffs
  • Formula powder
  • Baby shampoo and lotion
  • Toothbrushes, toothpaste
  • Shampoo, body wash, soap
  • Dish soap
  • Toilet paper, tissues
  • Deodorant
  • Lip balm, lotion
  • Band-Aids
  • Feminine products, tampons
  • Garbage bags
  • Sunscreen
  • Wrapped plasticware

Right now, extra food and supplies are being stored at KHUMC and the shelves are nearly stocked. The group is working toward building up funds to restock once the summer season comes to a close and the trends shift moving into the off-season. After speaking with Beach Food Pantry’s Elisabeth Silverthorne, Carol Riggins noted that the food banks and food pantries in the area have seen a decrease in need over the last few months. Once August rolls around, the demand will start to rise once again. Having the money to buy more items once this time comes is crucial.

Those that are interested in donating money to the Little Free Pantry are asked to put it in an envelope labeled “The Little Free Pantry” and leave it off at KHUMC.

The Cornerstone Group is hoping to spread the word about the Little Free Pantry to as many individuals as they can, to reach those that need it most. In the short-term, things have been looking bright for the future of the mini pantry. Riggins and Kitchen both hope to see more pantries pop up as time goes on, to reach more communities for those who cannot make it to Kitty Hawk.

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