When church leaders at Tuckahoe United Methodist Church in southern New Jersey searched for a ministry to serve the needy using the limited resources available to them, they discovered an idea right near their doorstep. Now their free pantry serves a steady flow of people each day.
“We don’t have the resources to staff a regular pantry,” said Blanche Adams, who has been a member of the small, multi-generational church in Cape May County for over 25 years and now serves as the church’s board president.
She added, “We also didn’t want people to have to fill out forms. We just wanted to feed them. It was a little way we could make a difference, with a jar of peanut butter.” The stigma of having to ask for help or pulling out food stamps is removed because people can come and go anonymously when they need to.
The white box has a sloped roof and a clear plastic front. A window latch holds the door closed. A metal sign on the post identifies the church and says, “Neighbors helping neighbors. Take what you need, leave what you can.”
This take-something, leave-something philosophy has been noticed by others in the community, and Adams said she hopes it will be replicated elsewhere. The free pantry is regularly stocked with things like canned goods, rice, muffin mixes, pasta and toiletries.
“People look at us a little differently. We’re here to help in any way. Pastor Will is the hands and feet of God,” said Adams who previously served as the SPRC (staff parish relations committee) chair. Rev. William Walters has been a pastor at the church for a little over two years.
The offering is not meant to replace formal food assistance programs. It may just be enough to let someone go to bed with a full stomach.
“What’s nice is we don’t qualify people,” Walters said who added that there is no income requirement, and the box is open 24 hours a day.
Adams said one of the catalysts for the ministry was Little Free Pantry, a pilot project that started in 2016 to loosely model the Little Free Libraries that have been propagating all over the country. The Little Free Pantry uses a familiar, compelling concept to pique local interest in and action against local food insecurity. It offers a place around which neighbors might coalesce to meet neighborhood needs, whether for food or for fun.
“Many people cannot afford paper goods, cleaning products or personal care products. I once had a good friend who wasn’t able to buy these items. Once I found out the situation, I helped her,” said another church member. “That’s just one family. This is a wonderful idea. If you know someone struggling, help if you can.”
A family at Tuckahoe UMC was instrumental in getting the project off the ground. Shona Rutter spearheaded the project, and her son, John and husband, Charles built the 2×3-foot structure on a pole, working off plans they found at the Little Free Pantry website, where they also found other valuable and helpful resources.
Another church member Liz Bready lives across the street from the small structure, so she checks on it every day.
“I just check things around, see what needs to be organized,” Bready said.
For more information about Tuckahoe UMC, visit tuckahoeumc.org/. For more information about the Little Free Pantry, visit .