MADISON, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) - Wisconsinites are finding ways to feed their neighbors during the coronavirus crisis.
More families are facing food insecurity during the pandemic. Food banks are getting donations, but many have limited days and hours to prevent spread of the virus.
Some Wisconsinites are using their front yards to provide for their neighbors. Little Free Pantries are the food counterpart of Little Free Libraries. Anybody can stop by and take food if they need it, or leave food if they have extra.
Kurt Stapleton is a Safe Communities coach. A few weeks ago, he was helping a man get back on his feet after years of homelessness. “He just got his first apartment. And he didn’t have any food or anything like that,” Stapleton said.
“He asked if I could try to get some food for him, some personal care items, and I said yeah no problem,” said Stapleton. He turned to the app Nextdoor. “I just asked the neighbors in the neighborhood if they could help with some items for this gentleman.”
The neighborhood stepped up big time. “The outpouring of support for was just incredible,” Stapleton said. People were dropping off food, soap, shampoo, you name it. They donated so much, the man was fully stocked. “We got so much stuff for this guy, and he was at the point where he said ‘I don’t need any more, if you can help somebody else, give the rest to somebody else.’”
Kurt’s wife Nicki suggested that they put the rest of the supplies in a box on the front yard, and treat it like a Little Free Pantry. They posted on the app that they had free food and personal care products for anyone who needs it. “We thought it would be there for a couple of days, and that would be the end of it,” said Stapleton.
They were wrong. The pantry took off. More people just kept donating, and more people were coming by to grab what they needed. Some food pantries have limited hours right now to try to limit the spread of COVID-19. But not everyone can get to the pantries during the hours they’re open. Many of their pantry patrons come at night. “We get a lot of people, all walks of life.”
All that extra supply became the Prairie Road Pantry. “People were taking what they needed, and dropping off what they didn’t need, and people wanted to help. Within a week and a half, it got to a point where we needed a bigger shelf or a bookcase or something,” said Stapleton. What started as just a box on the front lawn has grown into a tall bookcase, coolers, and milk crates full of food.
A woman in DeForest donated the bookcase that has “Prairie Rd. Pantry” written on the glass. One day it was raining, and a neighbor brought over the canopy tent.
Nicki started a Facebook page for the pantry. She posts daily about what’s available. “Just to let people know that there’s stuff here, there’s personal care items, there’s food, there’s diapers,” said Stapleton. “Whatever’s in there that day.”
The goal is to give people struggling some relief from food insecurity. “We saw this one lady, she was an older lady, she dropped off a can of soup. That was all she had. Who knows how far she drove to donate just one can of soup?” said Stapleton. “We just thought that was beautiful.”
Theirs isn’t the first Little Free Pantry in Madison, but it may be the one growing the fastest lately. Between the Facebook page and news stories, it’s gotten a lot of attention. It’s even inspired others to start pantries of their own. There are now pantries in Ft. Atkinson, Deerfield, Sun Prairie, Beloit, and another in Madison. All the owners have said they got the idea from the Prairie Road Pantry.
Stapleton hopes more people follow that lead and create pantries across Wisconsin. To learn more about starting your own Little Free Pantry, click here.
Right now, the Prairie Road Pantry needs more personal care products. When Nicki posts on the Facebook page that they have items like soap, shampoo, hand sanitizer, and deodorant out that day, they’re usually gone within an hour. For more on the Prairie Road Pantry, click here.