OAK FOREST, Ill. --One in six Americans face hunger. But across the nation, there is a a new trend to tackle the problem – one free pantry at a time.
It is a grassroots effort that was inspired by the free little libraries popping up all over the U.S., and started by a chain of people who came together on social media to make a difference for others.
Marilyn Fisher is a church going woman who just wants to help people who need a hand. Recently, a local food pantry organizer told Marilyn something she couldn't quite shake.
"Their food pantry feeds 5,000 families a month and 80% of those families are from the Oak Forest area,” she says. “That's always been in the back of my mind. How do we fix this? How do we help?"
She saw an article in Living Lutheran Magazine and a lightbulb went off. It was a little free pantry in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It was small, free-standing and individually managed with a simple message: “Take what you need. Give what you can.”
"If you give what you can or you can take what you need, it's ok. Give a little, take a lot. It doesn't really matter,” Marilyn says. "What a wonderful, simple idea. An idea that anybody can do. And I also knew of the need in Oak Forest."
The idea is catching on all over the U.S.
Boxes, cupboards, pantries, or “Blessing Boxes” as they are called, are dotting the United States. Each one is unique in its own way but each one is identical in mission.
The word is also spreading like wildfire on social media. Little Free Pantry stole the idea from Little Free Libraries you'll find coast to coast. The motto there is take a book, return a book. It is a pretty simple concept that runs on the honor system. Now the little free pantry does too.
The Oak Forest pantry was used in its first 24 hours and has been used almost every day since for three months. Twice a day, Marilyn fills her church's Little Free with fruit cups, water, granola bars and fresh vegetables from her community garden on church property. There is no lock on the door and no security cameras nearby. Those who give and those who take have total anonymity. And it's working.
"The very first time I came, it had been open 24 hours. I just stood here with tears streaming down my eyes,” Marilyn says.
Since its inception in Oak Forest, Marilyn and her church haven't had to put up a cent. The pantry and everything in it has all been donated. People who give quietly and filling the pantry, feeding Marilyn’s soul, while feeding the hungry who live nearby.
"I call them my little angels. All these people who give,” Marilyn says. "I have a quote from Mother Teresa out there that says, ‘If you can't feed a hundred, feed at least one.’”
Marilyn is accepting food and toiletry donations at her church all year round.
Marilyn hopes other communities will consider opening a little free pantry. All of it is restoring her faith in humanity.
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