BY OLIVIA NYE | COMMUNITTY NEWS SERVICE | DECEMBER 7, 2019
“Take what you need. Leave what you can.”
Their motto is simple, but the idea behind Hinesburg’s Little Free Pantry has big implications for the community, especially as locals fight the difficulties wrought by COVID-19.
Hinesburg Resident Phillp Bosen acts as a steward to the Hinesburg Little Free Pantry with the help of the Burlington Sunrise Rotary Club, United Church of Hinesburg, and the Community Alliance Church.
Over the last few months, demand for food has become taxing for the Little Free Pantry to keep up with.
“During COVID, we found that [the pantry] was being wiped out and not replenished just as quick. So there’d be a full pantry and then you’d come back an hour later it would all be gone. It might be a day or two before it got replenished and it might not be fully replenished,” Bosen said.
Fortunately, Bosen and the Burlington Sunrise Rotary Club came up with a system for the Little Free Pantry to continue providing food aid given increased need due to COVID.
Geographic areas of the community have designated pick-up days, which the Burlington Sunrise Rotary Club published on Front Porch Forum. So far, the new system seems to leave the Free Little Pantry with more recovery time between individuals who are able to donate food items, according to Bosen.
Lori McKenna, chairperson of the Missions and Social Missions and Social Justice Committee at the United Church, finds herself grocery shopping on a regular basis to meet the pantry’s current needs.
“My role has shifted in terms of really keeping an eye on the pantry to be aware of when it needs more food. And it really is emptying out about everyday or every other day. So a lot of food is going in and a lot of food is going out,” McKenna said.
McKenna views herself as an informant on the needs of the pantry by inviting the community and the town of Hinesburg to participate in sustaining it, which she believes is more important than ever before.
“I have worked over the past several months of the pandemic to try to really encourage the community to see this as our project, meaning ours, including myself. As part of the community, we’re all responsible for this pantry,” McKenna said. “We have been asking for donations of food and donations of money to keep it running at the level that it’s needed now, which is much higher than it was prior to the pandemic.”
With the help of the Little Free Pantry, the United Church hopes to expose and combat food insecurity. COVID has revealed just how prevalent the issue is in Vermont, according to McKenna.
“This pandemic has really shown us that food insecurity is a problem across the board,” McKenna said.
The United Church of Hinesburg’s primary mission is fighting food insecurity and has been for many years. They take constant action to combat the problem, both nationally and locally, according to McKenna. The Little Free Pantry is just one of their projects to achieve their mission.
Several years ago when the Burlington Sunrise Rotary Club approached the United Church about building a Little Free Pantry, the Church accepted the invitation and has played an important role in keeping the pantry stocked ever since.
Little Free Pantry is a grassroots project started in Arizona in 2016. Since then, the initiative has spread across the nation. Julie Kelly, former Rotary Club president, decided to bring Little Free Pantry to Hinesburg and considers the project a success from the start.
The Rotary Club’s ultimate goal is to have at least one Little Free Pantry in every county in Vermont. It’s a big project, but there are already a number of boxes in various towns, according to Bosen.
“We’re well on our way. It literally started as one little box and then it kind of morphed into this,” Bosen said.
What began as a simple idea of taking and leaving what you can has blossomed into a well-used and expansive project. People fill and take from the pantry in an organic manner, said both Bosen and McKenna.
However, with the dramatically increased needs, the Little Free Pantry needs help more than ever. Thankfully, the community has stepped up to the plate.
“It’s about our community. This is just something that I have chosen to do so that I can help during the pandemic, But this isn’t really just me. There are many, many people who have been incredibly generous. We have had a lot of money donated to us to support the pantry,” McKenna said. “It’s going to help us keep this pantry running probably for a good several months ahead. And we anticipate that need is going to be there for many months ahead. This community has been incredibly, incredibly generous.”
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.