“I was just looking for something that I could do on my own schedule.”
I first met Denise while serving as the pastor at Zion’s Lutheran Church in the early 1990’s. We had lost touch with each other with the passing of time, and we had been moving in different directions for more than twenty years. But we’ve recently enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with each other through the magic of Facebook. Times change. People change. But our faithful God continues to work in our lives, to open doors to life-giving ministry, and to lead us to the things that God wants us to do with our lives.
Denise and her family are mission-partners who join hands in ministry with other faith-filled people who are a part of what’s God’s doing at House of Prayer Lutheran Church in Aliquippa, PA. Aliquippa was once located in the center of the booming steel industry. But times changed; and, as the steel industry near Pittsburgh began to collapse, the people in Aliquippa faced challenges. Unemployment rose. Many young people left the area to seek jobs in other places. Businesses began to suffer, and families didn’t always have the money that they needed to purchase even the basic necessities of life.
People who don’t have the money to purchase the basic necessities of life become “food insecure.”
Just imagine what it’s like to send your child to school without breakfast, or to send your hungry child to bed without an evening meal. Many families that are “food insecure” receive help from government programs and local food banks. But, what happens to people who are “food insecure” when they make just enough money to be disqualified for assistance? What happens to people when they earn as little as $50 per month more than they’re allowed to earn? Doors close. Help disappears. Children go to bed at night hungry. And then, came the Little Free Pantry.
“The Little Free Pantry was not an original idea,” Denise recently told me in a conversation that we shared on Zoom. “The whole idea developed when a woman, named Jessica, began to imagine what would happen if people started to distribute food through little boxes located throughout communities that resembled a Little Free Library.” It all started at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas; and soon, the idea of creating a Little Free Pantry in many communities was born. “We need places where people can get food that they need without being embarrassed,” Denise said, “and I like the idea that a Little Free Pantry can build a connection between people in our community who need help and people who want to help them. My work with the Little Free Pantry has made me more aware of the fact that people in my community are generous. People want to help others, but they don’t always know what they can do.”
The first Little Free Pantry in Aliquippa was built by a local carpenter, who used a set of plans that you can get by CLICKING HERE. “I like the idea that the Little Free Pantry belongs to everybody,” Denise says, “and we’ve even been able to build a relationship with several organization as we’ve extended this ministry. Volunteers from Uncommon Grounds Cafe have painted beautiful designs on many of the pantries as local artists add their artistic touch. Faith Restorations supplies fresh produce that we place on the steps of our church to create the Little Free Farmer’s Market.” She further states: “It’s exciting to see the good in other people. The whole community’s coming together. Barriers are being broken down, and everybody is coming together to do a good thing.”
As our conversation comes to an end, I can’t help but ask Denise one last question: “How do you think God’s working in your life when you invest your time and energy in this ministry?”
Denise answers with a great big smile on her face. “God is showing me the goodness in other people. God’s opening a window into the hearts of other people and I can see something inside of them that I would have never seen in any other way.” We sit, for a moment, in silence….
When God’s at work in our lives, barriers are broken-down and people are drawn together. We become more aware of the generosity of others and we find ways to point people, who want to help others, in the right direction. And what makes it all work is: people, just like us, picking-up an additional item at the grocery store; businesses like the Dollar General Store in Clinton, PA that regularly collect food for people in their local community; and people, like Denise, who can see a need in their community and who help to build connections between people who have specific needs and people who want to help them.
To learn more about “Little Free Pantry” – CLICK HERE