Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

After learning about the Free Little Pantry in front of Ace Hardware in Franklin, Ruby Peoples wanted to build one in her hometown of Sylva.

“I think it’s a great concept and something small that can have a big impact,” Peoples said of the pantry. “I loved learning about the one in Franklin and wanted something similar in my community. I want to teach my daughter the importance of giving back and helping our community and this is a great way to do that. I have really been flabbergasted by the support of the community and people wanting to help.”

Peoples reached out to her church, Lifeway Community Church, who instantly got on board with the idea and donated a space right in the heart of Sylva’s downtown for the pantry.

The Little Free Pantry pilot project began in May 2016. The original pilot site tests both the concept and the community.  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.

Peoples posted her idea on Facebook and was instantly flooded with offers to help, including an offer from Macon County resident Timothy Crabtree, owner of Crabtree General and Motor Company Grill both in Franklin, with the help of Adam Drake, volunteered to build the pantry and donate all the wood needed for the project.

“I love the idea of The Little Free Pantry,” said Crabtree. “It is an easy way for people to help people. Helping our community and neighboring communities is one of my favorite passions. I think that Ruby Peoples and Brittney Burns (along with other parents) using projects such as this to influence their children in a positive way is amazing. I will help in any way I can now and in the future.”

Crabtree has spent the last two weeks designing and building the pantry and began installing it on Tuesday. Chris and Amanda Shaw, owners of Macon Rental in Franklin, donated an auger to help dig the four-foot hole to hold the post where the little pantry will be located. Emily Moss, who lives in Sylva but works in Franklin, volunteered her artistic talents to paint the pantry.

According to Peoples, a community packing party and unveiling is being planned for Friday, June 30 at noon.

“We want members of the community to come out and help stock the pantry for the first time,” she said. “Canned goods, non-perishable foods, personal hygiene items, small household needs like soaps and washes are all great options to get the pantry up and running.”

After the pantry is officially up and running, Peoples said she plans to establish a “sponsorship” calendar to encourage businesses, churches, or organizations to be assigned a “month” to sponsor the pantry. While the community at large will be encouraged to donate to the pantry at any time, having groups assigned to months encourages community involvement and ensures the pantry is always able to meet the needs of the community.

“We already have several churches who have asked to sign up for a month,” Peoples said. “For that month they are encouraged to hold food drives or donation collections and keep an extra eye on the pantry to keep it stocked.”

Peoples has plans to spread The Little Pantry idea into more towns in Western North Carolina.

“I have friends who want to do one in Bryson City and Robbinsville, so after this one is up and running I want to help make sure those happen too,” she said. “Lifeway also has a campus in Rabun, Ga., so we have talked about getting one built for that location too.”

Sylva’s Free Little Pantry will be hosting a ribbon cutting at noon on Friday, June 30, and the community is invited to attend and bring an item to donate to help get it stocked. Donations for the pantry can also be dropped off at Twice as Nice, located beside Harolds Supermarket in Dillsboro.

For more on Sylva’s Free Little Pantry visit their page on Facebook.