Clifton Little Pantries Coming To City Hall


Chances are you’ve passed by the numerous structures throughout town known as Little Free Libraries and wondered what they are. These volunteer-driven book-sharing structures have been around since 2009 with over 150,000 libraries around the world. The concept is simple: take a book, share a book. Now, some Clifton residents are taking this a step further and bringing Little Free Pantries to Clifton City Hall. Little Free Pantries are similar in concept to the libraries, but stock food instead of books. The message is the same - take what you need and give what you can.

There is already one such pantry in Clifton that has highlighted the needs of others, including our vulnerable older population. We all must eat to survive but we also have to pay the rent and bills, take care of our health, and take care of our pets. Out of a discussion of these challenges, a few citizens decided to take action. Donna Popowich, Nicole Kropinack, and Barbara James thought the idea was wonderful and needed to happen sooner rather than later.

The big challenge, of course, is to take an idea and make it happen on government property. The group started a Facebook chat and set the wheels in motion, inviting Councilman William Gibson to serve as a liaison between Clifton City Council and City Manager Dominick Villano. The City Manager’s input was necessary to get the Little Free Pantries on the council agenda since they were going to be on City Hall property. Gibson mentioned it during the privilege portion of a meeting in early spring and then asked Villano what the next steps should be. Villano said that Clifton Health Department Officer John Biegel would be part of the planning since food was involved.

The Little Free Pantries will be put on the council agenda once all details of locations and health requirements are finalized. The plan is for two Little Free Pantries on City Hall property: one for people that will be located just outside the Senior Center, and the other for pets, located a few steps away outside the Clifton Animal Shelter. Biegel mentioned possibly adding a third Pantry in Jubilee Park on Clifton Avenue and Allwood Road.

The work to get the Pantries built and then stocked is just starting. The first item is getting the three Little Free Pantry boxes built and installed. Once that is done, donations will be needed and a drop-off location will be publicized. Organizers hope that the City will have an official ribbon-cutting, perhaps a flag-raising, and a ceremony. The need is there and fortunately Clifton, the City that Cares, will have the opportunity to show what we as a community can do together.

Anyone can put up a Little Free Library or a Little Free Pantry. The website offers many tips on how to set one up, from choosing a location to deciding what to stock. These small, community-sponsored pantries are a safety net for people who may need something outside of the operating hours of a larger, established food pantry like St. Peter’s Haven. They also remove the stigma of being a “client,” as everyone - donors and recipients alike - interact with the pantry the same way…by simply walking up to it. There is no paperwork, nobody working there, and no open hours. It’s just there, all the time. For whoever needs it.

Some sobering statistics from Feeding America:

Facts about hunger in America

  • According to the USDA, more than 34 million people, including 9 million children, in the United States are food insecure.
  • The pandemic has increased food insecurity among families with children and communities of color, who already faced hunger at much higher rates before the pandemic.
  • Every community in the country is home to families who face hunger. But rural communities are especially hard hit by hunger.
  • Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and visit their local food banks and other food programs for extra support.
  • Hunger in African American, Latino, and Native American communities is higher because of systemic racial injustice. To achieve a hunger-free America, we must address the root causes of hunger and structural and systemic inequity.

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