Little Free Pantries are small stand-alone structures typically stocked with non-perishable food, personal care products and school supplies. Items are free, with the motto, “Give what you can. Take what you need.” During this time of uncertainty with COVID-19, they are a vital assistance for many. More information is available at littlefreepantry.org.
Started earlier this year by eighth-grade students Karina Wilhelm and brothers Spencer Katz and Riley Katz, part of a community project before graduating from St. Joseph School in May, the pantry on church grounds has been a “lifeline,” mother Judy Katz said during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, a note of thanks was left saying in part, “I would not be eating if it wasn’t for you. I love you, thank you. I’m not very religious, but God bless.”
They have partnered with the Fayetteville Masketeers, eight families working together, including the Katz family, to make and give away cloth masks in northwest Arkansas. When extra monetary donations come in, they’ve brought food to keep the pantry stocked. However, Judy Katz said, what is needed most is personal hygiene products. Dentists who can donate toothbrushes or toothpaste, or those who can donate small soap or other hygiene products, would be appreciated. The pantry is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“It’s flying off of the shelves; I can’t keep up. That’s what’s hard,” she said of hygiene products.
In January 2017, two blessing boxes were put on the grounds of St. Michael Church in Van Buren, stocked with non-perishable groceries, personal care and first aid items. They have since combined into one box that parishioner Emily Dickinson stocks a few times a week, along with four other volunteers. Dickinson, accounting assistant for the parish, also shops for groceries when monetary donations come in, which can be made out to St. Michael’s and mailed to the church office, earmarked for the blessing box ministry. She also writes out recipes to go along with certain canned items, like chickpeas.
“Right now, it’s kind of hard to get as many canned goods as I’d like because it’s been limited” on how many cans a person can buy in store, Dickinson said.
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Little Rock
The pantry began on the grounds of Good Counsel Church in November 2018 and remains stocked by parish secretary Hannia Bejarano, along with anyone who brings donations.
“I think people are hyper-aware the situation is precarious so they’re doing a great job of stocking it,” she said, adding need has increased since the pandemic. “... We’ve had a couple of neighbors come in and say … ‘I’m really sorry, I don’t mean to bug you, but I’m in dire need.”
Non-perishable items and personal care products typically fill the pantry, but Bejarano said there’s a need for more products like toilet paper, diapers and wipes.
“I think somebody had made facemasks and put them in there at some point. Anything pandemic-related, we recommend people put it in there,” she said.
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