The internet is full of “do-it-yourself” ideas that seem easy but turn out to be a frustrating exercise in patience. Not so however, with St. Mary’s Little Free Pantry, launched on September 10 in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
“Someone at our Sunday School teacher’s meeting saw it on the internet,” said Fr. Joseph Smith, pastor at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. “We saw it, and we did it.”
Plans were drawn up by parishioner George Arnott with the help of kids from the Sunday School. “Kids from all age groups helped from concept to finish,” continued Smith. “George explained the options and the kids made the decisions.”
The pantry, dedicated last week, stands on church property at the intersection of Louella and Lancaster Avenues, about 30 feet from a SEPTA bus stop. Sadly George passed away before the opening, but he undoubtedly would have been proud of how it turned out.
Coalition Against Hunger board member and St. Mary parishioner, Greg Kelleher, closely followed the progress over the spring and summer with the hope that other congregations in the suburbs might consider doing something similar. "The fight against hunger knows no town, city, county or state lines,” said Kelleher. “I am certain that George and his wife, Mary Jo, would have been proud to be called Hunger Fighters. “
While the pantry lives up to its name, there is space enough for many non-perishable cans of food, as well as some other useful items.
“We have baby formula and diapers in the pantry. We also have a thrift store at the parish, and so we put coupons in there for those in need,” said Smith.
The pantry is available 24 hours per day for anyone who needs it. The church intends to keep it stocked with donations from the Sunday School students and through food collections on Sundays.
“This is a very affluent area,” continued Smith. “But there are people who live here that have made sacrifices in order to send their children to schools in the district. We have populations that most people sitting in the pews on Sunday don’t know about.”
According to Smith, the church saw the pantry project as an opportunity to teach their students about Christian service in action:
“I believe you remember things a lot more when you get involved. When you take it to the next step, like these kids have done, this investment makes more sense to them and they have a great deal of ownership.”
Smith thinks the idea can be replicated very easily at other locations around the region. The church had congregational meetings to discuss the planning of the Little Free Pantry and issues were brought up but always resolved.
“People at meetings asked ‘What if one person takes all the food’ and ‘What if someone vandalizes it’,” said Smith. “Well then we’ll replace the food, or we’ll rebuild it. We weren’t going to let that stop us.”
If you are in the area and in need of food, St. Mary’s Little Free Pantry can be found at the intersection of Louella Ave & Lancaster Ave in Wayne, PA.