By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — It “may be but little,” to quote William Shakespeare, but the Little Free Pantry at the Catholic Worker’s hospitality house is making a big impact on neighborhood food insecurity.
Catholic Worker volunteer David Goodner said people began using the Little Free Pantry, which was installed last month, right away. “We filled it twice in the first 48 hours,” he said.
The Little Free Pantry is a national grassroots effort that allows neighbors an opportunity to help neighbors. People can leave or take food items 24 hours a day. While it isn’t intended to replace food pantries and other forms of aid, the pantry’s 24-hour availability makes it an excellent supplement for persons in need, according to Little Free Pantry’s website.
Regina Catholic Education Center-Iowa City, which has a Social Justice Club, heard about the Little Free Pantry program this spring when Goodner posted an article on social media about an Iowa City teenager who built and installed a Little Free Pantry as an Eagle Scout project, said club advisor Diane Platte. “David’s post asked folks to imagine a similar pantry at the Catholic Worker House, and the students in Regina’s Social Justice Club responded with enthusiasm!”
Club members, consisting of junior high and senior high students, got to work researching Little Free Library building plans, and the idea of re-purposing an existing cabinet sparked interest, Platte said. “We also felt that up-cycling would be more doable than building something from scratch.” Over spring break, Platte shopped around and found the perfect cabinet at a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. “We were tickled that we’d be able to give new life to something old, find something affordable, and help Habitat for Humanity at the same time.”
Group members painted the cabinet and replaced the wooden panels on the doors with clear plexiglass — also up-cycled. The students voted to decorate the pantry with a floral motif and the group painted the cabinet over the course of several sessions, some after school and some during lunch period.
Chad Hageman, a member of Regina’s Board of Directors, helped Platte and Goodner install the pantry at Catholic Worker’s hospitality house on June 30.
Since its installation last month, Catholic Worker and other donors have filled the pantry once or twice a day with canned meals, juice boxes, peanut butter and other food items, Goodner said.
Platte said she feels inspired and humbled by the club’s initiative in helping people who are dealing with food insecurity in Iowa City. The club members “are deeply empathetic individuals with heartfelt concern for people living on the margins. These kids feel a drive to make the world a better place, and, in our club discussions, they expressed a level of kindness and compassion that was just extraordinary.”