Hearing how many little free pantries were springing up in my home city of Lincoln, Nebraska, I tried to talk several people into having one. Eventually, in September 2020, I talked myself into having one. I had no idea how thoroughly it would connect me to my neighborhood and community.

I feel now a special closeness to my needy neighbors, even though I have seldom had a chance to speak with them personally. I strive to protect their dignity and anonymity by merely saying a silent prayer for them when I see them out my window.

But there are other connections that have developed with my donors that I also would never have made without the ongoing food drive it’s taken to keep my pantry supplied with non-perishables.

I couldn’t help but notice that many organizations and churches besides my own have been faithfully putting food and hygiene products in the pantry, mostly without recognition and for no reason other than helping their less-fortunate neighbors. By chance, I have become friends with some of them.

I have not remained silent about spreading the word and begging for food, mostly in Zoom meetings, of course. I joined my neighborhood association, never thinking they would put me on their board and allow me to reach even more people. I recently gave my little “begging talk” to a couple of state legislators—giving our cause an even wider audience.

In addition, pantry hosts in my city have joined together on social media to share our challenges and successes. This diverse group, some churched and some just having a caring spirit, has been a surprising bonus in my ever-expanding network of community friends.

Most of all, hosting a pantry has connected me in a very real way to God. He is the one who impresses people to give just the right foods at just the right times. Not only has my faith grown, but this experience has taught me to be more patient and non-judgmental. Everyone has their own story of hardship and need. It’s not my place to judge how much or what kind of foods they take or give.

If you want to build a community, there’s no better way than to start a pantry, whether you’re an individual, a church, or a business. In any event, you can always donate and support one, by yourself or with others. No one can do it on their own.

Visit www.littlefreepantry.org for more ideas and information about this powerful way to build community connections.

~Teresa Thompson is a member of the Piedmont Park Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.