Writer: Hannah Soyer
Photographer: Duane Tinkey
Five years ago, the Drake Neighborhood Little Free Pantry Project installed its first wooden box as a community food initiative with the guiding principle to take what you need and leave what you can. Given the speed at which these pantries are emptied—usually within a few hours—the need for them continues to grow.
Little Free Pantry is a grassroots project that launched in 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas. As 1 in 11 Iowans face hunger, according to Feeding America, the free pantries address local and immediate needs, especially as the pandemic continues to affect access to food. The Drake area qualifies as a food desert, a classification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for urban areas in which it is difficult to get affordable, healthy food. Around 15% of the neighborhood’s families receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
“I believe [change] starts in our own community,” says Stacia Humphrey, the food security community engagement peer in Drake University’s Office of Community Engaged Learning. Residents may face barriers in gaining access to programs such as SNAP benefits or traditional food pantries, including limited hours, distance and restrictions on frequency of use.
In addition to food, people can donate other needed essentials, such as feminine hygiene products, gloves, hats and school supplies. Under Humphrey’s direction, the project also has expanded to include education and outreach. Student organizations, staff and faculty can volunteer to be in charge of keeping a pantry stocked for a week at a time, as a part of the “adopt a pantry” initiative.
The educational portion involves informing the community about the Drake neighborhood’s diversity and the importance of stocking the pantries with culturally appropriate foods. The project’s website (drake.edu/community) suggests shopping at stores such as Hilal Groceries, Ibrahim Grocery, C-Fresh Market, United Market and La Tapatia Grocery.
Even the bulldog Griff II, Drake’s mascot, has been in on the action. For his third birthday party at Black Cat Ice Cream last July, his owner, Erin Bell, hosted a food drive for the pantries. Similar birthday drives were held for Griff I, Griff II’s predecessor.
The pantries provide “an easy and tangible way to help our neighbors,” Bell says. “I often come upon people taking things from the pantries, and I see that they are emptied soon after I fill them up. So I know the need is very much there and I have no doubt people are relying on them to feed themselves and their families.”
Drop nonperishable groceries and other supplies at Drake’s Little Food Pantries. They’re located located on campus in the Olmsted Parking lot and at the Sprout Garden on Carpenter and 30th streets. Find a map on the project’s Facebook page (facebook.com/DrakeLittlePantries).
Iowa Stops Hunger is a Business Publications Corp. initiative to raise awareness of hunger in Iowa and inspire action to combat it.