r Those driving by Payson’s city offices may notice the new addition of a little blue box on the south side of Utah Avenue. The sign reads, “Free Food Pantry, take what you need, leave what you can and have a wonderful day.”
This Little Free Food Pantry is the result of the efforts of Erin Mecklenburg. She got the idea from an article she read about a woman who had one in her Virginia community.
Mecklenburg said, “Anytime I’ve read articles about people struggling with food it always hits me because it’s not that there’s not enough food. There’s plenty of food, it’s a distribution problem. It’s just some people don’t have a way to get it.”
She’s thought about doing something like this for awhile. “This fall I got brave and went for it,” she said.
The Little Free Pantry was installed at the beginning of December with the approval of the Payson City Council. Mecklenburg lives in Elk Ridge, but wanted to put the pantry in Payson so it could serve more people.
“Whenever I go and it’s practically empty I’m super excited. I think, ‘This is working!’” People are taking items and other anonymous donors are filling it.
Mecklenburg said it has really been a community effort. “My parents bought the supplies, my husband, Chris, built it, the city council supported it and my neighbors filled it up.”
One advantage of the Little Free Pantry is that it is anonymous and those in need can just take a few items without having to fill out any of the paperwork that is sometimes associated with getting services. It is also available any time of day.
“I want people to feel like this is for anyone anytime,” Mecklenburg said. “If you need a can of chicken soup and there’s a can of chicken soup go ahead and take it. It’s about neighbors helping neighbors. Don’t feel weird about taking things from it even if you’re not struggling.”
She stresses anyone can take, or give to the pantry, however, they only want non-perishables (anything canned or boxed), personal care items, paper goods and baby things in the pantry. There should be no medicine, razors, cleaning supplies or used clothing or goods.
The Little Free Pantry in Payson is open on a 6-month trial basis. If there are no problems or vandalism, it will likely stay.
Many are familiar with or have seen Little Free Libraries in the community, but Little Free Pantries have not caught on as quickly in Utah. The Little Free Pantry map shows only one other pantry in the state, located in Logan. However, since the one in Payson went up, a man contacted Mecklenburg about putting one up himself in Orem. Those interested can find out all the information they need at LittleFreePantry.org.
The nationwide Little Free Pantry project began in May of 2016.