Drive or walk through the intersection on 14 and E Sts., SE. You will soon see a hand-built replica of the building behind it, Capitol Hill’s premiere “Blessings Box.” Also known as a “Little Free Pantry,” it is a small way to help those on Capitol Hill who have food insecurity. Its purpose is also to raise visibility of the problem of hunger in the community.
“We want to contribute food to those who may have housing but not enough money for food,” explained Patrick McClintock, a massage therapist who was the catalyst for this project. “I read an article in the Washington Post last June that described how these pantries have brought communities together and really helped people in need. I wanted to do that on Capitol Hill.” The Little Free Pantry is based on the honor system he said. “Give what you can and take what you need.”
The Little Free Pantry movement began in Fayetteville, Arkansas about three years ago when a local family was inspired by the Little Free Library movement and created small pantries in front yards based on “give what you can” and “take what you need” to help out those who are struggling to meet their food needs. The movement has taken off. More than 60 cities have created their own little pantries.
More than 600 pantries are all over the United States. Little free pantries have also been built in New Zealand, Canada and Australia.
Patrick sees The Little Free Pantry as a complement to existing resources on the Hill that contribute food to those in need. “It’s not designed to be a solution to the problem of food insecurity in the District. It’s a small effort that is a visible symbol of a real problem on Capitol Hill that needs real solutions.”
“It’s possible, according to Google, that 77 percent of DC public school students use subsidized meals at some time during the year. If that’s true it’s shocking,” said Patrick. Nationally, over 10 million adults 50 and older are at risk of hunger every day. An estimated $130 billion annual care costs is a result of food insecurity, according to AARP.
Patrick is a crusader for those on the Hill who may be in need. He was instrumental in the formation of the Capitol Hill Village, and raised more than $50,000 for charity through DC Ladies Arm Wrestling. He and his wife, Marilyn, floated the idea of starting a little pantry on the Hill among their friends who were positive about the idea. “The location at 14th and E SE is ideal. It’s the site of the old Pinkey’s Market (African-American owned and operated) which closed 33 years ago. The store has a decades-long history of generosity toward passers-by.” They also chose the site because of its proximity to Safeway and Potomac metro.
Health Benefits of Giving
Getting and staying healthy holistically involves far more than physical fitness. It’s about feeling good both physically and emotionally. Giving and doing good for neighbors and one’s community is a healthy way to feel good and contribute to one’s overall well-being. The concept of actually acting on one’s beliefs and not just talking about them in a religious service once a week is a natural one embraced by Patrick and Marilyn. “It’s so consistent with our beliefs of compassion through our Buddhist practice.” No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, most if not all, speak about the concept of giving. “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you” permeates Christianity. As one of the five pillars of Islam, zakat is a religious obligation for all who meet the wealth criteria which requires a mandatory charitable contribution.
The organizational sponsor of the Free Pantry project is the Saturday morning mindfulness group that meets at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church at 10:45 a.m.
Patrick found a volunteer with carpentry talents in the Saturday morning group. Long-time Hill resident Bert Kubli is a master carpenter and applied his craftsmanship to making the Little Free Pantry, a scale model of the historic Capitol Hill market where it will reside. Volunteers will walk by the Blessings Box daily to stock, and check if repair is needed. Community Action Group (CAG) at 124 15th St., SE will be storing any surplus pantry items.
Preferred Items to Stock the Pantry
The Little Free Pantry needs all sorts of foods and supplies. Non-perishable, non-glass and safe (e.g. no razors or scissors) items that are not used or open are welcome. It is not necessary to have pop-tops for canned goods. Jars of peanut butter, cans of tuna fish, juice cans, crackers and condiments are just a few of the items needed. School supplies, toothpaste, tooth brushes, tampons, and even seasonal items can be contributed. For a more complete list of items check out: littlefreepantry.org.
The statistics are alarming. “It’s possible, according to Google, that 77 percent of DC public school students use subsidized meals at some time during the year. If that’s true it’s shocking,” said Patrick. Nationally, 10+million adults 50 and older are at risk of hunger every day. An estimated $130.5 billion annual care costs is a result of food insecurity, according to AARP.
The concept of the Little Free Pantry continues to spread to other locations. Patrick has already scoped out two additional locations on the Hill. Amazon now has a “do-it-yourself” kit that can be purchased. To learn more about the free little pantries log onto: www.freelittlepantry.org.
To become a volunteer or for more information about the Capitol Hill effort email: [email protected] or text him at: 202-309-8611.
Pattie Cinelli is a health/fitness professional who writes about subjects on the leading edge of health and fitness thought. She has been writing her column for more than 25 years and welcomes column suggestions and fitness questions. Pattie is a certified functional aging specialist who works with baby boomers. She also can provide lectures, private sessions and group classes in stretch, yoga, Pilates and her specialty: Balance and Mobility, for your church, home or office. She is also producing a podcast that highlights choices we have in addition to traditional western medicine about staying well. You can contact Pattie at: [email protected]