Girl Scouts build little free pantry

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Service project aims to help neighbors feed neighbors 

By Ellarry Prentice
Staff writer

Little hands have built a little pantry with big dreams of giving back to the community and encouraging others to do the same.
After a busy summer working collaboratively on a community impact project, members of Girl Scout Troop 636 of Sauk Rapids have unveiled their Little Free Pantry. The troop’s freestanding mini pantry, built by hand and funded by cookie sales, is intended to meet local food and personal needs and to show neighborly love.
Placed in downtown Sauk Rapids Oct. 10, the pantry stores non-perishable food and other necessities community members may give or take for free as needed. Due to its small size, the Little Free Pantry is not intended to replace food pantries or to be relied on to meet pervasive needs, but it offers convenient, 24/7 access and discretion to people who give to or receive from it.
The pantry can be accessed at any time, no questions asked. The colorful community offering is situated on the lawn of the Great River Federal Credit Union, 4 Second Ave. N., near the main entrance.
A message on the pantry door reads, “Take what you need, leave what you can.” Whether people have a need for food, personal care items and other necessities, or a have desire to give, Troop 636 hopes community members will mutually benefit from the pantry, intended to pique local awareness of food insecurity and create an opportunity for residents to fulfill those needs.
Community members are encouraged to give by placing food, paper products and personal care items in the pantry.
“Hopefully, with enough support from our community, it will stay stocked, and people can get what they need,” said Kari Boehmer, troop leader.
Although the movement began years before the novel coronavirus pandemic, the troop hopes the pantry will provide a boost for people struggling during this unprecedented public health crisis.
The pantry is a spin on the Little Free Library’s “take a book; leave a book” exchange. An Arkansas woman launched the grassroots, crowd-sourced Little Free Pantry solution in May 2016 when she planted a wooden box containing food and personal care and paper items in her neighborhood. Just three months later, the movement became global.
Sauk Rapids’ new Little Free Pantry was created by the troop’s 14 members, helped by parent volunteers. The girls, who graduated from the rank of Brownie to Junior, are fourth graders this year.
This year, Troop 636 embarked on an educational journey that explores engineering. Challenged to think like an engineer, the girls formulated a plan about a project that would utilize engineering skills and help people in their community.
When the troop heard about a Little Free Pantry an area church had done, they were eager to build one that would nourish neighborhoods in Sauk Rapids.
“The girls loved the idea,” Boehmer said. “They were really excited to build one.”
The troop selected building plans used for other Little Free Pantry projects and got to work in June. Breaking into small groups, the girls and their parents divided the work, which included cutting wood for the pantry box and piecing it together, building a door, trim work and attaching the box to a wooden post.
“It definitely became a family effort,” said Boehmer of an undertaking that, though delayed by the pandemic, would not have been possible without the support of parents.
Many Girl Scouts said their favorite part about being a Brownie was building the Little Free Pantry, Boehmer said.
After assembling the pantry came the challenge of determining a home for it. The troop wanted the pantry to be easily accessible by people who use the bus lines and near the grocery store. The troop was delighted when the Great River Federal Credit Union offered up its property. And, the feeling was mutual.
“Our team at Great River is proud to help a project like this move forward for such an impactful organization like the Girl Scouts,” said Amy Hennen, assistant vice president of marketing for Great River Federal Credit Union. “These young children are proving to us all how much they care about others in need and are not afraid to work hard to make an impact in their communities.”
Adorned with rainbows, flowers, animals, the sun and the Girl Scout promise, painted by the Girl Scouts, the 2-by-3 pantry has built-in shelving. Instructions for donating are inside.
Troop 636 will monitor the Little Free Pantry. Due to temperature variants, people donating items should be conscious of foods that could perish depending on the season, Boehmer said.
Though construction of the pantry is complete, troop members will keep their sleeves rolled up.     “We would definitely be willing to gather donations and make sure (the pantry is) stocked regularly,” Boehmer said. “We will be working to make everyone aware it’s here.”