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Little Free Pantry installed on Clark Avenue

Sam Alvord, right, installs a Little Free Pantry Saturday at First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, while getting a visit from Cru Lang, 11, left, Jackson Alvord, 11, Leilani Alvord, and Savannah Alvord, 8. Photo by Denise Baratta
Sam Alvord puts the finishing bolts Saturday onto a new Little Free Pantry located at First Presbyterian Church of Ashland. Photo by Denise Baratta

First Presbyterian Church of Ashland opened a Little Free Pantry on Clark Avenue April 18, now available for the community to “take what you need, share what you can,” as the movement’s motto says.

Anyone who needs food is welcome to take from the pantry, said the Rev. Dan Fowler.

Installation of mini pantries is an international movement intended to address food insecurity — 1,879 pantries in the U.S. are mapped on the Little Free Pantry website, including the closest nearby pantry in Gold Hill, maintained by the local IOOF chapter.

The movement responds to heightened need during the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased the number of people facing food insecurity by 35% compared to 2018, according to Feeding America. Prior to the pandemic, food insecurity rates had dipped to the lowest level since the 1990s. The organization projected that one in eight people, including one in six children, may experience food insecurity this year.

An Oregon State University study estimated that one million Oregonians battled food insecurity in 2020 — more than double the 2019 rate — with Black, Hispanic and Indigenous households most affected.

Food insecurity is measured by surveying people about whether they had to shrink their meals, skip a meal or go a day without food to fit their budget.

Fowler said one of the church deacons will monitor the pantry daily to ensure it is well stocked, organized and accessible, and the Ashland Rotary Club agreed to help stock the pantry with nonperishable food items.

About one year ago, a deacon brought the idea for a Little Free Pantry to a church meeting, and the wheels started turning in support of the project, Fowler said. At the beginning of 2021, a carpenter in the congregation began constructing the small standing structure. Fowler estimated it cost about $500 to put the pantry up.

After hosting the winter shelter in partnership with Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, which closed March 31, the church was ready for the next opportunity to assist people in need, Fowler said.

“Location-wise, we wanted to find a place that would be accessible, but not dangerous,” he said.

The church initially considered Siskiyou Boulevard for the location, but determined the busy traffic pattern posed too much risk to people who might use the pantry, he said.

“For us as a church, the first thing is we want to try and find ways to tell others that Jesus loves them, and this is one way for us to share that — encouraging folks to care about their neighbors,” Fowler said. “It would be great to see it spread to other churches and nonprofits.”

More information and special food items will be listed on the Little Free Pantry - First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, Oregon Facebook page.

Mayor Julie Akins said she is grateful to see community members stepping up to combat hunger and called on the city to join in by reducing or freezing utility fees, generating workforce housing options and supporting the expansion of jobs that pay a living wage.

"As mayor, I find it increasingly heartbreaking to watch the difficulty surrounding our residents in terms of lacking workforce housing at a reasonable price, which forces too many into hunger,” she said. “When you have a city budget discussing key issues of structural deficits — and finding a lack of traction around tightening its belt while knowing there are so many hungry people in our community — it's disheartening.”

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.