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I designed and ran a food pantry on my street.

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The Little Free Food Pantry 

A Mutual Aid Project in Berkeley, California 

2020- 2023 

I got this crazy idea to start a free food pantry in front of my house on my street, and it kind of took over my life! I had been thinking about the idea and making sketches of what it could look like for years. 


I really wanted to design a kiosk of some kind that could be open 24 hours a day. It could be a place where people could drop off food, share food, and take food. The concept is basically: Take what you need, Give what you can. It's a lot like the Free Libraries where it's Take a Book, Come back and Leave a Book. 

 

It turned into a part time job and I ran it for three years. I wrote letters to local businesses and food banks to ask them for food donations (most people said Yes) and ran food drives in my neighborhood that were quite successful. If you would like to take a look at some photos and notes from people who used it, I made a little website for it. I used to stock it three times a day. I was obsessed. Thankfully, I partnered up with amazing organizations that offered to give us food. A LOT of food. At first I was just buying food with my own money. I would go to Trader Joe's and just load up on stuff that I knew people would want. 

I met so many amazing people over the years who were donating food, or using it daily. It was a hub. A place where I met my neighbors and lots of people who made the trek to drop off food. I saw the beauty in people when they able to be generous to make a point to share, and when someone is coming by to get food with something to donate... oh that is just gold. So many interactions like that. It gave me hope for humanity. But, there was a dark side to it too. The people who would come and take everything. I do not want to focus on that. 

 

I learned a lot about food insecurity and quite often the people who used it had housing. Many people came out of their way to drop off food to share with people who needed it. It was incredible to see it in action. People came by bike, car and on foot to donate or to take food home. 

 

I made a daily commitment to stock it, clean it and pick up large quantities of bread and food donations to share with anyone who needed food.  I asked friends and neighbors to help me go to the infamous ACME Bread Company to pick up 50 loaves of Pain au Levain, Sourdough, Rustic sweet dough, gorgeous focaccia, rounds, rolls and ... Chef's kiss !!! You get the picture. We picked up this INCREDIBLE bread every Wednesday and put it into professional looking bags with a cellophane window so people could see what they were choosing. We made a lot of people in the neighborhood very happy when it was bread day.

 

I had to eventually close the pantry so I could focus on a book project. C'est la vie! Now I volunteer at a local food bank and we give out large bags of beautiful, delicious produce, protein, canned and dry groceries to 400 families every week. 

There's lots of photos, info, notes from neighbors and a full debrief on what I would do differently on the website  that I made about the project. I am very grateful to the generous businesses and organizations we partnered with over the years. 

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