Family Spreads Kindness With Little Free Pantry

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PELLA, Iowa –You've probably seen little free libraries around town. Well now, little free pantries are popping up around central Iowa.

It's hard to miss the box in front of the Schirm’s Pella home. "It's a small, almost mailbox size container," said Mom Jessica Margrave Schirm.

Her son Anderson Schirm, 10, added, "We have a little free pantry."

The family installed the little free pantry in front of their home on Spruce Drive in December. "It's just been a blessing from day one," said Margrave Schirm.

Her dad built the box out of supplies in his garage. Jessica stocked it with food and household goods. She said it hasn’t been a big investment on their part. "Anytime I go to the grocery store, I just pick out $5 or $10 extra of things to put in there. People in our community have donated to it."

The concept is simple: take what you need and leave what you can. In the six weeks it's been out, it's been emptied twice. "I found a note in there from somebody who had used it. And, they said, thank you for this kindness. You don't know what it means to me and mine,” Margrave Schirm said.

The family recently restocked the little free pantry. You'll find lots of food on the top shelf, including canned food, popcorn, and pancake mix. But, Margrave Schirm said other items are in high demand. "The things that fly off the pantry shelves are household goods, cleaners, toilet paper, toothpaste, shampoo, diapers."

Even Anderson got involved asking his friends to bring pantry items instead of presents to his 10th birthday party. “I'm very thankful they gave all that, and I'm happy that instead of me getting presents, other people got things they needed, instead of me getting things I need because I already have all that I need."

The Schirms say dog food and cat food are also popular pantry items. Margrave Schirm said even though they have a wonderful food assistance program in town, there is still a need. “There are folks who may not qualify for the assistance of the food shelf, but still find themselves in need. People who are living paycheck to paycheck, people who are dealing with an unexpected illness or a layoff.”

You'll find little free pantries in a few spots around central Iowa. The Unity Point Pediatrics Clinic in Ankeny has a little free pantry. One of the pediatricians had her husband make it. She said the most needed items there are diapers and wipes.