A New Type of Food Pantry is Sprouting in Yards Across America

7 minute read

A new small-scale charity movement is quickly spreading across the country; a little twist on the little free library boxes. Small pantries stocked with free food and personal care items are popping up in yards all across the country.

The state of the economy is no secret and it is a known fact that many people are unemployed, homeless, or just down on their luck. These little pantries offer much-needed items and just the right amount of dignity.

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These boxes or pantries found outside churches, community buildings, and houses contain different foods, as well as hygiene products like deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and diapers. 

The people who put these boxes outside their homes feel as though it is the least they can do. While it may seem like something small to them, it makes a world of difference to the person in need. For those that visit the boxes or pantries, these items are nothing short of blessings.

A woman putting an apple in a box marked for donation

A Box of Blessings

The best part of these boxes is that you do not have to have one outside your house to help. Most of them come with notes that prompt you to take something if you need it and to leave something if you don’t. You may have items in your house that you do not need but maybe a treasure to someone else.

You can visit these pantries and drop off food or items just like you would to a shelter or food drive. Between visitors that drop stuff off and the owners of the property that regularly restock them, these pantries are little bundles of paradise to those in challenging times.

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Since the appearance of these pantries, the awareness of help has increased. Owners of the pantries or boxes reported that once they are filled, the average turnover time is between 30 and 45 minutes. Since the pantries are emptied almost as quickly as they are filled, people clearly have a need for them. Think of how many people could benefit if these yard pantries were available everywhere.

The popularity of these boxes is thought to stem from the fact that you can visit anonymously and autonomously, which is not always the case with food pantries. They allow you to get what you need without providing a document or signing anything. When people are already feeling down on themselves and frustrated with a situation, these pantries give them just the right amount of dignity back while giving what is needed in tough times.

Homeless people being served food

Paying it Forward

These food pantries are perfect examples of the pay it forward concept, stemming from the idea that when someone does something good for or to you, instead of paying them back you do something good for another person. These pantries are examples of people who feel fortunate in life and feel the need to help others less fortunate than themselves. 

Considering the world seems cold and unfriendly from time to time, paying it forward and helping others is an amazing idea. A chain of generosity is kick-started and spreads quickly, bringing nothing but joy. What could possibly be better? Not only do you feel good for helping but the person you helped feels better too. It’s a clear win-win situation.

How to Pay It Forward

You don’t have to start a food pantry in your yard to pay it forward; it is easy to apply the concept anywhere in your life. One simple gesture can start a chain reaction of generosity. Of course, this will only work for those that believe in paying it forward and are truly interested in helping others. Some ideas of gestures you can make apart from starting a yard pantry include:

Volunteers sweeping the streets

Clean up the neighborhood: Take a stroll around your block and pick up trash and litter on the streets. This makes the neighborhood beautiful for you and the community. It could also make the streets safer if dangerous items are removed.

Pre-pay at a drive-through: When you pull up to pay for your order at a drive-through, let the cashier know you will also be paying for the order of the person behind you. 

Leave quarters: When you go to the laundromat, find a washer or dryer that is not being used and leave quarters. Make sure you leave enough to cover the average cost of a cycle, which will vary depending on where you are. Even if you do not do your laundry at a laundromat, you can still stop by one and leave coins on any machine.

Dropped money: Find a random person in a crowd or as you walk down a street and approach them from behind. Tap them on the shoulder and hand them $5, telling them that they dropped it. In the event they resist, be persistent about telling them you saw it fall from their pocket.

Young woman helping her neighbor wash her car

Wash a car: When you are out washing your car, go ahead and wash your neighbor's, too. You already have the water, soap and sponges out, so do them a favor. Always be sure to ask them first, though, because some people are picky about their cars. The same concept works for mowing lawns or raking leaves, too.

Listen: The number one cause of depression is a feeling of isolation and many people suffer from this. If you know anyone going through s tough time, be there to listen to them. Sometimes lending your ear is enough to make them feel better. You can also visit nursing homes or hospices to listen to the residents, as they often do not get visitors and may not have anyone to talk to.

Give your umbrella to someone when it is raining: If you see someone hiding out under a shelter or in a store doorway during a rainstorm, buy them an umbrella so they can go about their day.

A couple changing the tire of a car in the rain

The Bottom Line

Across the country, the practice of small pantry boxes is taking hold. People leave small boxes filled with food and hygiene products in their yards or outside community centers and churches. Those in need who take items from the boxes can do so anonymously without registering.

Others can anonymously drop off items to share via the pantry boxes. This is an example of paying it forward, which is helping others as you have been helped in the past. In addition to the practice of these pantry boxes, there are many other ways to pay it forward, including paying for the customer in front of you, leaving coins for a laundromat, or placing money in expiring parking meters. 

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