City grants help bring little free pantries to Grier Heights
Leslie Blaser
City grants help bring little free pantries to Grier Heights

​Alexandria Brown grew up in Washington, D.C. and remembers corner stores everywhere in her neighborhood, where anyone could quickly get the necessities they need like food, paper products, and other conveniences. The eleventh grader now lives in the Grier Heights neighborhood in Charlotte, and convenience stores are nowhere to be found. According to her mom, Stacey Brown, the president of the Grier Heights Community Improvement Association, the last corner store property in the neighborhood was bought by a developer over a decade ago, and there hasn’t been a store since.

More than 3,000 people live in Grier Heights and 46 percent of its residents rely on food assistance. Only 56 percent live within a half mile of a grocery store. For those who don’t have transportation or have mobility issues and can’t walk, easy access to good food can be difficult.

So, Alexandria decided to do something about it.

Free little pantry“I researched a lot – nationally and globally – about food insecurity,” she said. For her Gold Star project for Girl Scouts, Alexandria decided that she wanted to build Little Free Pantries for her neighborhood. When COVID-19 hit, the need to access food and other necessities became even greater. Researchers predict that one in six Americans could go hungry as the pandemic continues.

Alexandria learned about the Little Free Pantry grants from the City of Charlotte’s Housing & Neighborhood Services Department through her mom. As a career and college consultant, Stacey is always looking for opportunities for students, to be able to find leadership experiences and opportunities to improve resumes to help make them more competitive for college. While normally she would learn about city grants through her role in her neighborhood association, Stacey quickly realized this grant could be a good fit for Alexandria’s project, too.

With help from the grant, Alexandria built her first Little Free Pantry in May, and two more have gone up in following months. The three pantries are filled every week and a half to two weeks with canned food, non-perishables, paper goods and other personal items. She’s also received gift cards from residents to help her fill the pantries if they ever go empty.

So far, though, that hasn’t been a problem. In addition to Alexandria and Stacey providing goods, community members continuously restock the pantries, too. The pantries have turned into a space where the community can support one another.

“[It] really has become a community initiative,” Stacey said. “It’s not just me, it’s not just [Alexandria] buying items or collecting items or donating items. I think that was a concern for some…at first, but we always knew it was a community initiative. It wasn’t something that just fell on us.”

One of the boxes is located near medical offices and the Department of Social Services. The mother daughter duo recently learned from one of the residents nearby that, in addition to community members stocking the pantries, employees driving to work are also stopping to put items in. In fact, one family friend has faithfully donated a large box of canned and boxed food every two weeks for the last six months.

For Alexandria and her mom, these pantries have created the opportunity in the neighborhood for neighbors to feed one another and support the community as a whole. “When you look at these little free pantries, it’s a lot easier for some people to say ‘Hey, I can purchase five more canned goods, it’s not draining my pocket too much, I can give every two weeks.’ It’s a lot less challenging to give,” Stacey said.

Alexandria has plans to include surveys in the boxes, so residents can provide feedback on what’s inside. She also hopes to include healthy recipe cards and to install solar lights on the pantries.

Alexandria knows the need for the food pantries will continue even after COVID-19 has passed. As she gets older, she plans to go to college, but she hopes the boxes will continue to be sustainable for the community. She’s working with her Gold Star project advisor, Loaves and Fishes, and other community members to create a team that will ensure that the pantries can continue to be filled.

“Do it because every little thing counts,” she said. “That food could help somebody that really needs it. If you’re thinking about doing it, do it.”

To date, Housing and Neighborhood Services has awarded 37 Little Free Pantry Grants throughout Charlotte during the pandemic. These grants reimbursed individuals or organizations who wanted to build or stock a little free pantry or convert an existing Little Free Library to provide supplies for those in need.

Housing and Neighborhood Services has provided more than $166,000 in grants to help organizations and residents continue to support their neighbors during COVID-19. Learn more about these community grant opportunities and how to apply.