Visiting Avon, NC, is a real treat. This sleepy town an hour south of Manteo in the Outer Banks remains a tight-knit community despite swelling with tourists during season. Since her appointment to St. John United Methodist Church in July, Rev. Gina Miller has had nothing but good things to say about her generous congregation. During the extensive Hurricane Matthew cleanup, they hosted work teams for neighbors affected to the south. This winter, a free weekly community dinner brought together more than 1,000 people from different walks of life in St. John’s Fellowship Hall. Even now, a bucket of supplies – collected for a local women’s safe-house – rests beside a beautiful pulpit as a reminder during Sunday service.
In addition to the congregation’s annual ministries, Rev. Gina (with the help of passionate lay people) is currently expanding on the church’s values of feeding people and helping those in need. Last fall, she watched a “tiny food pantry” video – based off the popular “tiny libraries” concept – on Facebook and decided that St. John could easily build one. It immediately took off, with church members and neighbors dropping off food donations in a sturdy box by the church parking lot. It’s an anonymous but heartwarming transaction, with those in the community that need the donated goods simply taking the items.
Rev. Gina has made some important observations since launching St. John’s tiny food pantry:
- Most of the patrons of the tiny food pantry come at night, when there’s little chance of church activity or cars driving by.
- Paper bags from the local grocery store were added to the food pantry so people could fill up a bag as if they went grocery shopping.
- Beyond food items, people can pick up donated feminine hygiene products and first aid items.
- The only other major food bank is down the island and has limited hours, and many people have issues with transportation or coordinating around work.
- A tiny food pantry allows for dignity, open hours, and community donations – perfect for their small cmmunity.
Want to start a tiny food pantry for your congregation? Consider the following:
- How do we promote healthy donations for our tiny food pantry?
- Ask local food pantries or food banks about their most requested items in order to solicit those donations.
- Set up a whiteboard in a fellowship hall with a rotating list of donations that are needed for the food pantry.
- Ask other local faith communities to build their own, and consider asking larger food banks for consistent food donations.
- Ask a local artist to decorate the tiny food pantry.
- Encourage your community to share social media posts with the location of the box and how it works, so word spreads fast.
- Include handouts with the names, locations, hours, and contact information of local social services (211, food pantries, homeless shelter, abuse hotline, substance addiction help, etc.)
- Consider asking local people about why people are hungry in your community, and what next steps your congregation can take to address generational hungry.
- Translate any instructions on or inside the box into Spanish or common languages spoken in your area.
St. John UMC has a storied history of loving their neighbor. Clergy like Rev. Gina, who in less than a year has formed vital relationships to dig deeper into community priorities, are an incredible resource for nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies alike as we work together for a better North Carolina.
For more information on tiny food pantries, check out NPR’s “A New Type of Food Pantry is Sprouting in Yards Across America.”
Rural Faith Communities Fellow