By Bridget Manley, publisher
At the Singers Glen recycling center sits an unassuming cabinet next to the bins full of cardboard and newspapers.
The cabinet has a glass front and two shelves, and it’s stocked with non-perishable foods. On the top reads in small lettering, “Little Pantry.”
Little Pantries are popping up across the Valley, and are part of a growing grassroots movement for people to give and receive food via anonymous boxes along the road. They follow a similar trend of Free Little Libraries, where people can take and give books as they like.
This Little Pantry was the brainchild of some of Singers Glen and Rockingham County Democrats who wanted to give back and help others between campaign seasons. The pandemic has exacerbated America’s growing poverty levels, and Little Pantries represent small ways people can help those who might be in need of a quick meal.
Addressing rural poverty is a focus for the group, especially in western Rockingham County.
“Singers Glenn is a pretty large precinct, and it stretches out to almost West Virginia,” said Barbara Camph, one of the Little Pantry’s creators. “That particular area…the poverty there is extreme.”
The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, one of the largest networks of food pantries in the Valley, reports that before the pandemic, they were serving an average of over 103,000 people each month. That number surged 48% when many businesses shut down a year ago, and the food bank now serves 11,000 more visitors each month, according to its figures.
The Little Pantry is another way for people to have access to a quick free meal. The box is waterproof and animal proof, and it holds all kinds of nonperishable foods: soups, pasta, peanut butter, canned fruits and much more.
Andy Sale, a Rockingham County Democrat who made the cabinet, said it was relatively inexpensive, but he had to use a little ingenuity for the roof.
“Putting a metal roof on it would have been one of the most expensive things we could have done,” Sale said. “I went to the hardware store and said: ‘What can I use as roofing that will be waterproof?’ And he said, ‘rubber mats!’ So I went to Walmart, and bought two for $1.99.”
They spoke to the people who owned the Singers Glen recycling center as a possible location. Both the property owners and the Singers Glen Ruritan Club, who maintain the recycling center, gave the organizers permission.
“They were ever so gracious and said they would publicize it as well, so then we had the go-ahead to install the box,” Camph said.
Camph said she is looking into what is not covered by SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits in Virginia, such diapers, household supplies and hygiene items like toothpaste and shampoo. They are going to start stocking the Little Pantry with those items, which are also desperately needed but not readily available.
Sale said once the Little Pantry gets more well known, the hope is that people who can donate will put items in the pantry as they can.
“The optimum model is that you take things out, and you put things in,” Sale said. “It gives the community an opportunity to put things in and give back.”
Sale also said another bonus is the anonymity of taking food items, which might help those who feel embarrassed.
“The anonymity is its strength,” Sale said.
For anyone who might want to build their own Little Pantry, Sale said he is happy to give advice and blueprints so others can build one. Meanwhile, Camph said she hopes those who need something to eat will find the box and be able to have a hot meal.
“I hope they find the pantry,” Camph said. “I hope they use it, and I hope I have to stock it every single day.”
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