This Big Bright Blue Birdhouse In Burbank Isn't A Free Library, It's A Free Food Pantry -- And There Are More
"Give if you can... Take if you need."
So read the words scrawled across a bright blue birdhouse in Burbank -- stocked full of non-perishable food, diapers, hygiene products and other supplies.
The small treasure trove, found off the corner of Tujunga Avenue and Victory Boulevard, is one of three Little Free Pantries across Los Angeles and part of a larger national network of tiny storehouses aimed at giving food to those who need it -- at no cost.
"No judgments. No signing up. It's just there, and it's a resource," said Tara Duffy, who convinced her church to put up the pantry more than a year ago. She stocks it every week with her family.
Nearly 2 million people in Los Angeles County experience food insecurity, and the problem is only getting worse, according to Los Angeles Regional Food Bank director Michael Flood.
Food bank distribution in L.A. County is up 22% in the first six months of this year, despite record low unemployment rates, Flood said.
Although Little Free Pantries work at a much smaller scale than a food bank, Jessica McClard, who came up with the original idea of Little Free Pantries, hopes that the service can help catch those falling through the cracks.
Government programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), help millions who qualify. But the USDA website says SNAP cannot be used for non-food purchases like personal hygiene items or cleaning supplies -- a need the Little Free Pantries address.
"I see people all the time going in," said Deborah, who uses the Burbank Little Free Pantry and preferred to share only her first name for privacy reasons. "If I have something I want, I take out of it, and if I have something I want to give to it, I put in frequently. I think people prefer to do it kind of privately."
McClard agreed: "These pantries are available for anyone at any time. No questions asked. I think that helps mitigate the shame of need."
McClard built her first pantry outside her church in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2016 after spotting a Little Free Library while out on a run. She thought the covered bookshelves looked a lot like kitchen cabinets and had the potential to store food instead of books.
"It was clear to me there was something bigger going on that was compelling to people. It seemed to have something to do with our desire to reconnect with one another, McClard said.
About two weeks after she launched the first pantry, a stranger built a second one in her neighborhood. The idea kept spreading from there.
Today, the Little Free Pantry website maps nearly 700 locations worldwide, though McClard suspects there could be three times as many based on the number of unmapped pantries she has encountered in Arkansas.
For those looking to donate or steward their own pantry, this FAQ page provides guidance about considerations like local regulations and choosing a location.
But Duffy said, "It's really not about any particular structure. It's about feeding our neighbors as quickly as possible and mobilizing people to do it."
LOS ANGELES COUNTY LOCATIONS
- Burbank Little Free Pantry, 222 S. Victory Blvd., Burbank
- Monica's Little Free Pantry, 1711 North Avon Street, Burbank
- Jo's Little Free Pantry, address upon request.