Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
Molly Harmon has had a Little Free Pantry in front of her home in Columbia City for nearly six years.
Soon, there will be a lot more of them in Seattle, thanks to Harmon’s family and a slew of people who wanted to help during the coronavirus pandemic.
Harmon, a personal chef with a passion to help with food security, took a small grant she received from the Awesome Foundation to build six Little Free Pantries and put a note on her neighborhood Facebook page seeking locations for them.
The idea, modeled somewhat on the Little Free Library concept, is simple: The pantries are filled by people in the community, and those in need are encouraged to come by and take what they can use.
Not only did Harmon find homes for the six new pantries, she received requests for 20 more. So she started a GoFundMe page asking for $800 for materials to build them; the goal was reached within a day.
“We just started banging them out,” said Harmon, who said 24 of the 26 pantries have been distributed in Southeast Seattle and the Central District.
“I have been dropping pantries off to everyone who signed up, and the people install them.”
Harmon teamed with her husband and son to build several, as did two volunteers whom Harmon previously didn’t know and has yet to meet face to face because of social distancing. The Harmons, using an assembly line, can build a box in three to four hours.
What’s in Harmon’s Little Free Pantry?
“It’s a lot of nonperishable foods, and a lot of what I call pop-top foods, where you just add water or a can that doesn’t require a can opener,” Harmon said. “There is soup, spaghetti sauces, pasta, beans, tuna, little bags of lentils you just add water to, and Indian curries are really popular. And there are personal hygiene products, and sometimes diapers. We add foods, but our neighbors, too, have taken it upon themselves to add things so it’s ever-changing and evolving.”
Harmon said her pantry gets a lot of use.
“It could be filled up one day, and typically it would be empty in a couple of days,” Harmon said.
Keeping it full is part of Harmon’s mission to fight food insecurity in Seattle. She said the Little Free Pantries are not a substitute for food banks — and she encourages people to support them with food or money — but as something additional neighbors can to do help neighbors.
“Food insecurity doesn’t necessarily equate to homelessness,” said Harmon, who has had to pause her business because of the pandemic. “A lot of people who are food insecure are housed. And especially right now, with a lot of people losing work, food security is becoming an issue for a lot of people. This is a project that has given me purpose during this time and kept me busy. I think it’s an opportunity to support your neighbors.”
Harmon said one of the unexpected byproducts of her Little Free Pantry has been “the amount of neighbors I have met that I probably would have otherwise never met — the people who are users and people who are donating.” She hopes Little Free Pantries will continue to filter through neighborhoods for years.
“A Little Free Pantry helps your neighbor, and I believe it takes a village to support our neighbors,” Harmon said. “Little Free Pantries will never fix food insecurity, but it will support a neighbor. And in these times, it is essential that we do a little something to support each other.”