There is a deep well of generosity in the form of the Little Free Pantry & Library that is planted in the lawn in front of Andrews House on West Winter Street in Delaware. This well ebbs, flows, eddies, whirls, and occasionally runs low but is rarely completely empty. The food inside appears and disappears from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute, usually anonymously. Like the phases of the moon, changes of seasons, or progression of shadows cast as the sun crosses the sky, there seems to be a pattern to what is taken or not taken, and when; and to what is given, and when. But the pattern is not readily discernible, perhaps more like weather fronts dependent on forces mysterious to most of us, but obvious to weather forecasters.
The ecosystem of basic human need and that need fulfilled is simple with the Little Free Pantry. Those who have food to give, put it in. Those who need food, take it out. There is no registration, no requirements, no limits as to how much you can take and how often. It can be accessed 24/7 by anyone.
Andrews House tends this Little Free Pantry daily to keep it clean and fresh. Daily, we organize it and fill it when it’s low. We try to keep a variety of things available: canned goods, dry milk, cereal, pasta, pancake mix, all manner of pantry staples as well as ready-to-eat snacks, bakery items, and sometimes fruit and vegetables.
Andrews House established this Little Free Pantry, like many others who have done so across the world, because food is a basic human need. Access to food can be challenging for many people who lack transportation and resources or who can’t get to a pantry during opening hours. Having access to food on Monday doesn’t help if you are hungry on Saturday morning.
Since Andrews House supplements the Little Free Pantry daily, we need a steady store of pantry items to keep it full. After a particularly active summer, we put a call out to the community to help fill our pantry. Many people and groups responded. Our neighbors at Staas Brewery challenged their patrons to contribute, and what a bounty of food flowed across Franklin Street and into the Little Free Pantry! St. Mary’s service groups also answered the call with an abundance of food. The variety (and quantity) of items given was astounding. Quite the cornucopia of dry and nonperishable goods. Everything from quality protein powder to Kodiak Cakes (a protein packed pancake mix) and peanut butter crackers to basmati rice. I imagine the surprise and delight of someone needing food finding a package of imported olives or Snickers bars in the Little Free Pantry.
I see this as a transfer of love from one person to another, one bit of food at a time. One person giving food, another receiving it. Each item of food, a nugget of love given to another person. To witness this gentle flow of humanity, a simple solution to a basic need, gives me hope and joy in our world.
The poet Katrina Vandenberg writes that “the vast majority of our acts of love are humble and seldom witnessed. Yet act by act by act, we shape our culture and even have the power to change life itself, and our participation in that collective life force does not end with our deaths. What I mean is, heaven is here.”
This shaping of our culture happens every minute of every day by everything we do. Each gesture, kindness, smile, space given to understand each other, each pause and reflection before jumping to judgement shapes our culture one person at a time.
There are many Little Free pantries scattered around Delaware County and across the world. All being looked after and filled by individuals in a neighborhood. All being accessed by individuals in the same neighborhood.
I thank God that in these small ways, we are shaping a loving, caring culture.
And with the advice of Mother Teresa “never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you,” that sea-change of culture can change the world.
Mel Corroto is not a pastor, but she works with many pastors and church communities in her role as director of Andrews House in Delaware.