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Little Free Pantries help the community during COVID crisis

photo by Angel Russell
Ethan Stan & his fiancée Emily Cardoza host a "Little Free Pantry" on Pismo Street in San Luis Obispo"

As food banks across the nation are overwhelmed due to the coronavirus pandemic, neighbors are helping neighbors with the use of Little Free Pantries. There are hundreds of these pantries around the nation in a growing movement, and some are popping up throughout the Central Coast.

San Luis Obispo resident Ethan Stan and his fiancée Emily Cardoza decided to host a little free pantry in front of their home on Pismo Street in San Luis Obispo back in March, when Governor Newsom ordered Californians to shelter at home.

The pantry was built by Jessica Ericksen and her family, who had the desire to place a little free pantry in a spot where people could use it the most, and the Stan-Cardoza house on Pismo Street was just the place. 

“Most folks have seen little free libraries,” said Stan, “then somebody said ‘why don’t you put a pantry version of that?”

The couple figured people were going to be in for tough financial times, and they wanted to help. “One of the first things I did before we installed it was I just made sure it was okay with my neighbors,” Stan said. “We know that homeless folks are going to come and use the pantry, though it’s not solely homeless folks.” 

They went door to door talking to neighbors about the pantry idea, and wanted to make sure everyone felt safe with strangers coming up along their street to stop and use the pantry. Cardoza says she was shocked by the response. “Our neighbors were not only tolerating it, they’ve been super supportive and regularly make donations,” Cardoza said. “We have a neighborly group who will make their weekly donations and we can kind of catch up with people that way.”

Artwork by local artist Amy T. Won adorns the cabinet with an artistic deck of cards on the side, featuring scenes of birds, animals and nature. “SLO has these painted utility boxes,” Stan said. “I don’t see why these little free pantries can’t be a source of art as well.” 

Community members can take what they need from the pantries while giving what they can, no strings attached. Stan says if it helps one person then it’s worth doing it. He and Cardoza are also helping find cabinets to place little free pantries throughout San Luis Obispo County in other neighborhoods. “It’s really powerful that you don’t have to be a part of any camp, or be explicit about what you believe as long as you are helping people,” Stan said. 

The building and expansion of little free pantries like this are a community effort, with a goal to create a network of pantries that provide mutal aid through neighborhood connection.

If you want to build your own box, you can go to to find different specifications, measurements and tips. Once you have your pantry ready, you can organize a group of friends, family or church-goers to keep it stocked during the week.