Inspired by the Little Free Library movement which saw small libraries popping up on lawns throughout the suburbs, local charitable organizations are now creating Little Food Pantries that operate under a similar premise: if you have extra, leave it behind; if you are in need, take something for free.

On the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard, the Brookfield-Riverside Rotary Club opened a little food pantry in April. Rev. Karl Sokol of Compassionate UMC, who is also a Rotary member, tends the pantry. He says the project came out of a desire to look at needs in the community differently.

“Instead of talking about food insecurity, why don’t we focus on food abundance? We can make better use of our little plots of yard to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. We can target food scarcity by giving extras to our friends and neighbors.”

Sokol’s high school friend, Oak Brook resident Bill Steinhauer, donated his services to build a sturdy wooden cabinet on top of a four-by-four post. He then coated it with marine varnish to protect it from the elements and added a sliding bolt closure.

At first, Sokol wasn’t sure what the response to the pantry would be. “We started with a little trepidation. Someone might use it or abuse it, but it’s been a nice, steady flow of users.”

The little pantry is used for canned goods and non-perishable items, and Sokol says fresh fruits and vegetables are often left underneath the pantry itself. Located next to the community garden, which has about 40 members, Sokol says that the pantry has benefitted from robust community support.

People donate and take canned pet food as well as human food, he says. On the Brookfield Connections Facebook page, he sees people post about buying something for the pantry, so he knows there is community interest in keeping the pantry supplied.

What he likes best about the project is that it’s easily replicable and very low maintenance.

Another little food pantry popped up in August at Riverside Presbyterian Church at 116 Barrypoint Road. Located in a well-lit area outside of the office of the church, the pantry offers free food and personal care items 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Tara Gregus, a church member, brought the idea to the Mission Committee, and the group embraced it as part of their larger mission to address issues of hunger. The group regularly gathers supplies for area shelters and food pantries throughout the Chicago area and provides and serves meals at the Boulevard in Chicago. 

Those interested in donating can bring items to the church office or simply put smaller items in the pantry itself. Suggested items include travel size shampoo, body wash, soap, individually wrapped toilet tissue, feminine hygiene products, baby food, granola bars, and canned foods with pop lids.

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