Edmonds Healthy Eating: Little Free Pantries — helping neighbors in time of need

About 10 years ago, my husband and I installed a Little Free Library (LFL) in our front yard in the Maplewood neighborhood of Edmonds.  We were early adopters of the LFL model (Charter #1555   at littlefreelibrary.org) and we have enjoyed the free exchange of books from friends and neighbors. Part of the mission of our LFL is Ovarian Cancer Awareness since I am an 11-year survivor.  Besides books, I stock information about symptoms and treatments as well as retreats for Ovarian Cancer Survivors for LFL visitors to take for themselves or to share.
You may wonder what my Little Free Library has to do with healthy eating? Great question. Last month I read an article in The Seattle Times about Molly Harmon, a personal chef, who started building Little Free Pantries (LFP) for her neighborhood. The idea, modeled on the Little Free Library concept, is simple and straightforward: Take What You Need, Leave What You Can. The pantries are filled by people in the community, and those in need are encouraged to come by and take what they can use. 
I immediately felt inspired and contacted Molly of the Little Free Pantries. She delivered her basic “food pantry” kit to us and then we sanded, painted and put a sturdy roof on it. Someone from a Facebook Marketplace listing donated an old wooden stool that we reinforced with rebar and brackets to use as the base for our own Little Free Pantry. I reached out to neighbors on the Edmonds Neighbors Facebook group to find someone with sign-painting skills and Liesl stepped up for us and created two magnificent signs for the LFP.
We installed our Edmonds Little Free Pantry next to our Little Free Library…and before we could even announce its installation the box was brimming with food. It even has its own Facebook page so that I can leave updates about it for the public to see. We are located just off Main Street and Maplewood Drive about one block from a major bus stop. Traffic is starting to pick up and we hope that people will start spreading the word.
Due to health department regulations, we are only allowed to offer non-perishables. We’ve been keeping it full with pasta, soups, canned and dried beans, canned tuna and chicken, canned fruits and vegetables, boxed mixes such as macaroni and cheese, applesauce cups, granola bars, personal hygiene products, baby food, snacks and even homemade masks that several people have donated. We add new items to the LFP on a daily basis, but it’s our generous neighbors all around Edmonds who anonymously drop off bags of goods. We encourage folks to leave healthy items and encourage people to buy something extra when they go to the store so that they can donate to the Edmonds Little Free Pantry.
I know some people reading this article will be surprised to learn that many people living in Edmonds suffer from food insecurity. This has been a challenging time for people and putting three meals per day together for a family — especially if you have been furloughed or laid off — can be an overwhelming challenge. It’s a blessing that the Edmonds School District has continued to provide free meals five days per week for families.
According to Molly Harmon of the Little Free Pantries: “Food insecurity doesn’t necessarily equate to homelessness. A lot of people who are food insecure are housed. And especially right now, with people losing work, food security is becoming an issue for a lot of people. This is a project that has given me purpose during this time and kept me busy. I think it’s an opportunity to support your neighbors.”
In addition, many local restaurants and caterers are offering free kids meals and discounted meals for seniors, even for those who do not order additional paid meals to-go. A recent My Edmonds News article about the Edmonds Food Bank stated, “One in nine Washington residents suffers from “food insecurity.” According to Edmonds Food Bank Executive Director Casey Davis, this means “they have to make a decision between food and other necessities in their lives such as medicine or bills.” The Edmonds Food Bank now typically helps approximately 1,600 people a week meet their food needs. The current COVID-19 pandemic is expected to greatly swell those numbers.
The Edmonds Little Free Pantry does not replace food banks nor the generosity of local food vendors/restauranteurs. My husband and I contribute to Food Lifeline every year but we wanted to provide a hyperlocal way of offering help during the pandemic. As my LFP mentor Molly Harmon says, “A Little Free Pantry helps your neighbor, and I believe it takes a village to support our neighbors. Little Free Pantries will never fix food insecurity, but it will support a neighbor. And in these times, it is essential that we do a little something to support each other.”
We hope that you will consider checking out our brand-new Edmonds Little Free Pantry if you are in need at this time or if you are able to donate non-perishable items.  Thank you for your support of this local movement.  #littlefreepantries

—  By Deborah Binder

Deborah Binder lives in Edmonds with her family. She is “dancing with N.E.D.” (no evidence of disease) after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch and share her experiments with her family and friends. She attended culinary school on the East Coast and freelances around town for local chefs. Her current interest in food is learning to eat for health and wellness, while at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the table. As Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation including butter.” Deborah can be contacted at jaideborah@yahoo.com.



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