The Little Free Pantry – Jessica McClard (POY 44)

The Little Free Pantry - Jessica McClard (POY 44)

Jessica McClard founded The Little Free Pantry with a simple model: take groceries when you need, leave them if you can. Now the concept has gone worldwide.

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About Jessica and The Little Free Pantry

Jessica McClard lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and founded The Little Free Pantry project as a side project in May of 2016.

The model behind Little Free Pantries is similar to the one behind Little Free Libraries, which you may have heard of before. The difference between Little Free Libraries and Little Free Pantries is that, instead of small structures in public places where people can take books or leave books for others, the pantries serve as mini storage points for things like canned food or personal care items. The idea is based on the honor system, and the pantries are meant to encourage neighbors to test concepts like community, charity, justice, and the sharing economy.

Jessica devoted a lot of brainpower to planning the first Little Free Pantry. Her husband built a dark, wooden box with shelves inside and a Plexiglass door even before they found a post to mount it on. She struggled a bit with where to place it, but she, her husband, and their friends were finally able to install it at Good Shepherd Lutheran, her home church in Fayetteville. It didn’t take the group long to realize that demand for even a small pantry in their corner of the city was huge.

As of the Fall of 2017, about a year and a half after it opened, Jessica and the other stewards of the first Little Free Pantry were restocking its shelves roughly four or five times per day.

In the first few months after the first Little Free Pantry opened in Fayetteville, word started to spread. Pantries began popping up around Arkansas, then in other states. People started contacting Jessica with questions, and new stewards sent her photos and stories from pantries in other places.

The project took on a life of its own, just as Jessica hoped it would, and it coincided with a movement to ease food insecurity in similar ways around the world. Little Free Pantry now even has sister projects: there’s a project called Blessing Boxes in Oklahoma, Help Shelves in Tallahassee, People’s Pantries in Cincinnati, and a community fridge in one London neighborhood, just to name a few. It’s tough to quantify exactly how many of locations there are at the moment, but Jessica estimates the total is somewhere between 500 and a thousand, with more opening almost every day. She’s working on a map to get a more accurate count, which she’ll be launching soon.

Jessica has a background in lots of areas, including nursing and finance. The impression I got from talking with her is that this project is by far one of the most gratifying things she’s ever been involved with.

Jessica McClard and friends installed the first Little Free Pantry in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It has since become part of a worldwide movement to address food insecurity at the local level.
Jessica McClard and friends installed the first Little Free Pantry in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It has since become part of a worldwide movement to address food insecurity at the local level. (Photo)

Now What?

Homework for You

What I learned from Jessica is that being a good neighbor and taking part of something bigger than ourselves requires dedication and a little effort outside of our normal routines. It’s easier to stay at home and devote our free time and resources to personal pursuits, but I’m of the opinion that there are limits to how satisfied we can feel in isolation like this. Little Free Pantries seem like simple but powerful solutions for this type of isolation, not only for ourselves but for those who live among us and struggle in secret to meet their basic needs.

If you’re interested in learning more about the project, check it out at You should also check out their Facebook page, which is super active.

Who knows? Your contribution to the Little Free Pantry movement could be the one to push it past its tipping point.

Further Reading

What Do You Think?

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