15337568_1151448898235814_157117570511162479_nBrittney Burns – Staff Writer

Imagine a place to go when you need sugar, or a side for dinner. Or if you’re low on cash until payday and need something for breakfast for the family. Somewhere that can help you in a time of need, and somewhere easy where you can give back and serve the nceptmmunity when times are good. That is the idea behind a service program Robert DiTomasso and others in the community are in the process of bringing to Macon County.

“I am currently here in Franklin due to a program called VetsWork,” said DiTomasso. “It is a program run by a non-profit called Mt. Adams Institute with a partnership through Americorps. The main focus of the program is for veterans to gain experience in agencies like the Forest Service. In addition to that, Mt. Adams encourages its participants to perform a community project. The guidelines for which are pretty lenient and left mostly up to the veteran. I really wanted my project to be something that would endure long past my time in this community ended. I wanted it to be some sort of lasting addition to the community without leaning too heavily on one particular person or group of people, once I left Franklin. My wife, Sarah, sent me a link to the Little Free Pantry projects website and it immediately spoke to me. I can not claim it as an original idea of mine, because it isn’t but it is just the sort of project I had in mind.”

The Little Free Pantry utilizes a familiar, compelling concept to pique local interest in and action against local food insecurity. The Little Free Pantry offers a place around which neighbors might coalesce to meet neighborhood needs, whether for food or for fun. The project started earlier this year, and is already being duplicated in communities around the country.

My hope is that the pantry is a physical symbol of this community’s generosity,” said DiTomasso. “My hope is that those truly in need of a little extra support, who may suffer from food insecurity, benefit from this pantry. Some people may feel a certain level of embarrassment when asking for help, and this pantry can offer a little support while also offering anonymity. My further hope is that even those who do not necessarily need the pantry, still take advantage of it. I believe there is an inherit benefit to sharing.”

Construction has already started for Franklin’s first Free Little Pantry, which will be located in the parking lot of Appalachian Ace Hardware. “We have already installed a post in the ground at the pantry location and will be constructing the actual pantry offsite during this week,” said DiTomasso. “It will be completed by Wednesday, Dec. 21.

DiTomasso is working in collaboration with Josh and Cortney Patrick, owners of the Appalachian Ace Hardware to bring the pantry to Franklin.

“While making contacts and trying to get this project off the ground, I was put in touch with them,” DiTomasso said. “They had expressed an interest a while back and had fortunately attempted to create a partnership with some of the same people as myself. I spoke with them and found out they not only wanted to be a part of a Free Pantry Project, but that they wanted to host the pantry on their businesses property. They were even willing to donate the materials. This was very helpful. I had already began the process of getting material from a corporate business but that process was moving slowly. I am much happier keeping things within the community. I was also able to get assistance in building the Pantry by the owner/operator of Snyder’s Sound Service, Jonathan Snyder.”

The Patricks are excited to host Franklin’s First Free Little Pantry and has plans to manage the pantry once it is installed.

“We have been looking to implement this project since August,” said Cortney Patrick. “I just loved the thought of the whole community helping each other and knowing that Franklin would be a great town for this concept. My goal was to implement before the Christmas school break, as this can be a time when funds are tight and there are several people who may not be willing to ask for help.”

Cortney noted that she likes the idea of the pantry being anonymous. Those who need help, can get it without having to let anyone know they are down on their luck.

“This program allows for someone to take from the pantry and no one has to know that they were in need of help if that’s how they prefer it,” said Cortney. “Once we were introduced to Rob, who had expressed a desire to some of the same people we had discussed this with, we were able to move forward quite quickly. Appalachian Ace will help in storing overflow or duplicate items and general maintenance of the pantry from here on out. We hope the support and buy in of the community will be enough to keep it running.”

Cortney said that she has already been overwhelmed with community support to keep the program sustainable, having heard from lots of people wanting to help. In the future, she hopes to develop a stocking calendar with interested individuals, businesses, churches, and organizations who may want to help ensure the pantry is stocked and successful year round.

DiTomasso is excited for the opportunity that can serve the community long after his internship is completed.  “In my short time here in Franklin it has become clear that this is a community of kind and generous people,” said DiTomasso. “When you have a community like that, I believe it is important to have as many outlets for that kindness as possible.”