Little Pantries supplement family food budgets

The Little Free Food Pantries are scattered all over the county for folks in need of a just a little help. This one is located just off the Old Murphy Road. Photo by Vickie Carpenter

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

Food insecurity was already a reality for many people living in Macon County, and with the pandemic stretching on into a year and businesses and jobs affected, that reality has widened its reach. Little pantries, similar to the little libraries concept, provide emergency food supplies and other necessities for anyone in need.

After Dick Richards constructed and erected a little pantry adjacent to a church in Murphy, which he had pastored, the need was immediately evident. Plus, he said, “It gave the congregation something to do besides just attend church and then go home.” 

A resident of Macon County with his wife, Vicki, for 15 years, Richards decided to put another little pantry at Louisa Chapel United Methodist Church and it, too, began to fill a need. Next, Bethel United Methodist Church requested one adjacent to its building. 

Richards, 80, constructs the little pantries in his workshop, paints them red and white, and adorns them with the scripture verse Matthew 25:31-46, which teaches, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink …”

Materials cost about $200, explained Richards, pointing out that he built bird houses before he “graduated” to little pantries. It takes him about 25 hours and his son, Keith Richards, 50, helps him put the roofs on. 

“If any church or group wants one, I will build it, deliver it, and supervise the installation,” said Dick Richards. “Jesus told us to feed the hungry. Little pantries are a community activity for anyone … everyone. People ‘take what they need and leave what they can.”’   

Vicki Richards regularly visits the little pantries to make sure they are stocked. She carries items in her car and adds what is needed. 

“The most popular item seems to be Vienna sausages,” said Dick Richards. “They are always taken after people put them in the little pantries. But really any protein, like SPAM and peanut butter, is popular. Anything non-perishable. Vegetables are the last things to get taken, but they do. Baby food is needed as well, but people often don’t think about putting it in a little pantry …  or things like toilet paper, soap, sanitizer, shampoos, deodorant. I want to encourage people to  consider adding items to pantries regularly … maybe every time they go to the grocery store, they can pick up a few extra things.”

Richards said he believes that stocking little pantries is the “best way to serve God because you are serving others. Little pantries are a labor of love and something we love doing, and we just want to make sure people know about them.”