How to Start a Free Food Pantry and Where to Donate Food

By Mali Anderson in Helping Hands

Wondering how to start a free food pantry? Perhaps you've witnessed families experiencing food insecurity within your own community or on the news and feel the urge to help. Starting a little free pantry with food and household items could help others during a time when support is most needed.


According to the nonprofit Save the Children, the US faces several troubling food security issues:


  • More than 1 in 6 children are struggling with hunger.
  • For 17 percent of households with children, there is not enough nourishing food to feed all family members throughout the year.
  • Food insecurity has expanded since the COVID-19 pandemic began.


Some families find themselves facing food insecurity when a parent is laid off at work, or when a family living check to check receives a large unexpected bill. Starting a free food pantry is a small way you can give back to those in need in your community.


Getting Started


If you want to help fight food insecurity, there are a few ways to get involved. For starters, you can reach out to local organizations—civic or educational groups, for example—to learn about programs that are already in place, as well as opportunities to donate nonperishable foods or volunteer.


Creating a little free pantry is another way to provide neighbors and community members with food and household items. While the small pantries often resemble little free libraries that have become popular book-swapping stations in many communities, they share nonperishable food and household items instead.


Little free pantry


Where to Put It and How to Stock It


Your free pantry could go on your own private property, or you could obtain permission from another property owner. If there is a space on public property that looks like just the right spot, look into obtaining a permit. Follow local guidelines and ordinances. Getting the support of the neighborhood is also helpful.


Stocking the tiny pantry can happen organically—some choose to add a sign letting people know they are free to take items or leave items. If the pantry is often bare, you could ask friends, neighbors, or coworkers if they'd like to donate or add items when stock is low. Here are some great items to consider:



If you are looking for ways to get creative with your pantry, the Little Free Pantry website shares examples others have created, and it also allows you to add your pantry to their online map to show community members where the pantry is located.


Your pantry does not need to be in a permanent structure either. Some opt to simply put out a small fold-up table for a few hours each weekend. The choice is yours.


Little free pantry sign


Learning how to start a free food pantry is one of many ways to give back to your community. If you are interested in exploring other ways to boost community well-being, visit the @tomsofmaine Natural Inspiration Pinterest board.


Image Sources: Pixabay | Flickr | Flickr


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Why It's Good

Lending support to your community with a little free food pantry can help to fight food insecurity and give those in need access to nutritious food.