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Little Free Pantries see heavy use, bare shelves during pandemic

Published: Sep. 18, 2020 at 5:32 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - There are now Little Free Pantries all over Lincoln for people to come and get a little extra help with groceries. But recently, some little free pantries are getting used so much the shelves are bare when people show up.

Michael Reinmiller, who started the first little free pantry in Lincoln, said he has to restock his pantry between one and three times every day to keep up with demand.

Reinmiller said that with the pandemic and people losing their jobs, the creation of these pantries couldn’t have come at a better time for Lincoln.

“It’s just dumb luck that it started when it did," Reinmiller said. "It has just kind of blown up on me. I didn’t expect it to get so busy.”

He said with so much need, Little Free Pantries could use some help, but people seem to be hesitant to drop off items in the pantries.

“I had a lady the other day say ‘Is it okay if I put something in there?’ and I said ‘absolutely,’" Reinmiller said. “You’re walking past, and it’s someone’s private property, and I think it feels almost like they’re intruding, and I mean, I kind of get people asking permission but if you want to come to 1609 South 26th Street and put something in the box, please feel free to do so.”

Reinmiller said if you want to help, just find any one of the Free Little Pantries and fill it up with groceries, hygiene products, and masks.

Jo Thomas said she sees the need firsthand at the little free pantry near 22nd and Y Streets.

“I try to bring something at least once a week," Thomas said. "Today it’s pretty full, but come back tomorrow and it’ll almost be empty again.”

One Lincoln woman’s Facebook post has been shared more than 1,200 times after she found two Free Little Pantries close to empty a few days ago. She said now anytime she gets groceries, she plans to buy a few extra items to add to the shelves.

Trying to help fill the need is Reinmiller’s father-in-law, Jim Falk. So far, he’s built eight of Lincoln’s thirteen pantries.

“This was all Michael’s idea, and he asked if I could build one," Falk said. "One was it. That was all there was, and then I built another one and he found a home for it. Then some very generous people agreed to help support the program and purchase the supplies for it so we just kept building.”

Falk said he’s going to keep building as long as he can.

“I’m just tickled that there’s a way to meet an obvious need here in town and it’s fun to be part of it," Falk said.

Another free pantry is set to be installed on Tuesday.

Below is a list of where you can find Little Free Pantries around Lincoln:

  • 1609 South 26th Street
  • 4102 Calvert Street
  • 2408 J Street
  • 5750 South 40th Street
  • 380 South 44th Street
  • 1450 Rose Street
  • 4115 Lenox Avenue
  • 1159 Knox Street
  • 2826 Garfield Street
  • 1800 C Street
  • 3234 C Street
  • 2222 Y Street
  • 23rd and P Street

Copyright 2020 KOLN. All rights reserved.

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