Drake Students Bring ‘Little Free Food Pantries’ to the Neighborhood

DES MOINES, Iowa -- As a part of a class, several Drake students installed three little free food pantries in the Drake neighborhood.

The idea is to take what you need and leave what you can, which is intended to help restock the little pantries.

“Drake neighborhood is a food desert. So we realized it was necessary in this area. And we did some research and found that there are pantries like this in the area, particularly in Ankeny and Pella. And so we kind of looked at those as catalyst projects and there was great success with them and we realized the Drake neighborhood would be a great place to put these in,” Drake student Katie O’Keefe said.

The USDA uses the term “food desert” for places where it is difficult to find or buy affordable and good quality fresh food.

O’Keefe said she hopes the little pantries bring the students and surrounding community together.

“There’s kind of like this Drake bubble where students don’t really reach out to the surrounding neighborhoods. So by having these pantries both on campus and in the neighborhood it helps bring those two communities together and helps build that bridge,” O’Keefe said.

They hope to have ten little pantries total by the end of the summer.

The three existing little pantries are located near the Sprout Garden at 25th Stree and Forest Avenue, the northwest corner of the Olmsted parking lot, and beside the bus station along University Avenue west of 31st Street.

“The locations are pretty strategic so we chose this one in particular, the bus station, because one it’s on campus so it reaches that community of students, but also a lot of community members use this bus station, so then it will give the opportunity to both communities to use this resource here,” O’Keefe said.

A Drake student applied for a Wellmark Foundation Community Kickstarter grant to fund the project and received $10,000.

The next place the students want to install one is at St. Kate's.

“We’ve had contact with a few organizations around, like this is still Drake owned, but St. Kate's which is just down the road from here. They’ve reached out to us and they already do a lot of food donations and collections. So this is just a natural next step for us,” Drake student Parker Klyn said.

Director of Community Engaged Learning Renee Sedlacek said the Sprout Garden on Drake’s Campus inspired them to do more and have something available all the time.

“We have Sprout Garden, which is a community youth garden at Forest Avenue and 36th and in the summer will have additional produce that we take out to food pantries and shelters in town, but the community, locally, around the university is only able to access it if we have a staff or student out there because it’s fenced off,” Sedlacek said.

O’Keefe said she hopes these little pantries fill the gap between regular pantries and other assistance programs.

Students will be posting what the pantries need and which ones need to be restocked on their Facebook page Little Pantries Drake University Neighborhood.