Photo Courtesy Salvation Army USA West on Flickr
BY HALEY HODGES
As the final project for Melissa Sturm-Smith’s Leadership 100 class, half of the class took on the task of designing a program for Habitat for Humanity at Drake while the other half took a different path: creating Free Little Pantries.
“It’s kind of like the Free Little Libraries that are popping up everywhere: kind of leave a book, take a book,” said Haley Guerdet, a sophomore studying digital media productions. “We’re doing leave some non-perishable food items, take some.”
The Free Little Pantries look almost like a giant mailbox, but instead of being filled with mail or books like most people see, it is filled with non-perishable food items. The idea behind the project is that it will help feed the hungry, but also people can donate to it and take food if they feel like it.
A goal of Sturm-Smith’s class is to involve students in a service-learning project, which guided the decisions to work with Habitat for Humanity and Free Little Pantries.
“I work closely with the Community Engaged Learning office in my role as associate provost, and so I knew about the project when they first submitted the grant proposal last fall,” Sturm-Smith said over email. “I thought it would be a nice fit for a LEAD 100 service-learning project because it was the appropriate scope and would require the students to work as a team and provide a tangible outcome.”
The Little Pantries project started with nothing for the students who wanted to take it on, but a team of six students were up to the challenge.
“I really liked the idea of doing something that’s totally new to the Drake neighborhood and that it was going to be something we could physically see the results of,” P2 Pharmacy student Nicole Drakeman said. “I think it’s a really cool idea too because it bridges the gap between Drake students and the outside community, so I liked the idea of bringing the community together and pops the Drake bubble.”
The idea for Little Pantries was inspired by the successful implementation of the pantries in Ankeny. The Ankeny project quickly took off and has received positive community responses so far.
To install them in the Drake neighborhood, the students partnered with the Office of Community Engaged Learning whose director, Renee Sedlacek, applied for a grant to accomplish the project.
“We proposed the idea in the fall to Wellmark (Foundation Community), received the grant in December and proposed to the class in February,” Sadlacek said. “We’re really thankful to the class, that’s for sure, because they didn’t have to pick us.”
The grant allowed for 10 pantries, with plans to have a couple on Drake property and the rest throughout the surrounding area. Due to zoning restrictions and time restraints, however, the class will only be able to build and install four pantries on university-owned land before the end of the semester.
Concerns that people, especially free-food-loving college students, will abuse the pantries were initially discussed, but dismissed by the team in favor of trying to help those who will need the resource.
“Even students who are financially stable enough to attend this college and might have a meal plan, doesn’t mean there’s not going to be times when they’re hungry,” Drakeman said. “If you have some extra flex dollars one day and can leave some extra granola bars (in a pantry), that’s great. If you don’t have a meal plan and you don’t have a lunch for the day, that means you’re hungry and you need the pantry as well.”
Drakeman said most of the pantries on university-owned property will be on the outskirts of campus. For example, some are planned to be near bus stops so community members can access them as well.
Setting up the remaining six pantries off-campus will be a project that next semester’s LEAD 100 class will take over. That class is set to work with community partners to install the rest of the pantries around the neighborhood. The hope is to find or establish a club that can take over monitoring the pantries once the classes are done.
Guerdet and Drakeman are currently responsible for running a Facebook page to monitor the pantries and hope someone will post if they’re empty or in need of repair. By getting an initial donation to fill the pantries, the class hopes the community will take over from there.
“People always ask me ‘Aren’t you concerned they’re not going to stay full?’” Sedlacek said. “Thankfully, this is a cause the community can easily get behind because no one wants to see people hungry, and so there’s a natural giving impulse of humanity that I think is enough to keep it going.”