By Pastor Mark Anderson, Assistant to the Bishop

In late 2020, the Northeastern Iowa Synod was awarded a grant of $7,500 from the ELCA’s COVID-19 Fund to help families experiencing unemployment, poverty or other hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds were distributed to the 17 congregations that host “Little Free Pantries” to help keep them supplied.

What is a Little Food Pantry?

A Little Food Pantry is a way for congregations to help provide food to their neighbors in need.  It is a small cupboard placed outside in an easily accessible area. Community members are encouraged to keep the pantries stocked by leaving canned or dry foods and other supplies for others to take when needed.

Do Little Food Pantries make a difference?

This note was left inside the Little Free Pantry at Lord of Life Lutheran Church, ELCA in Asbury, Iowa.  

Why am I Here?

It is winter dark. The kind of dark that happens in mid-winter. The entire world is sleeping. Everyone but me. I’m going to a parking lot to creep to a box like a teenager on a scavenger hunt. I am hunting – but my goal isn’t something from a list made by one of my friends. I’m literally hunting for food for my family.

I don’t have the skills I need for this kind of hunting. I have always provided for my family. That was before.

Now my pay is cut in half and I can’t afford to pay the mortgage and the utility bills and buy food. We’ve done the normal things to cut down: Fancy coffee is a thing of the past. Clothes come from Thrift stores. We use the library for books, videos, and music. Much of our food comes from the Dollar Store – it’s more affordable, but it isn’t the healthiest. A trip to Aldi’s is a treat because we can afford a package of chocolate sandwich cookies.

But these economy measures aren’t enough. I have to figure out how to get something high sugar for my diabetic son. This isn’t a treat – if his glucose goes low, he could die without something high in sugar like juice or hard candy or syrup. I have to buy soap, toilet paper, hygiene items. The stuff you can’t do without. We make too much to qualify for government benefits and the stimulus payment only goes so far.

I don’t want the neighbors to know I am failing.

On this night, my heart is as dark as the sky. I make my way to the magic box of love to gather food to supplement our cupboards. Juice and apple sauce. Canned milk, pasta, chicken, and tuna. Some canned vegetables. Peanut butter and whole grain crackers. My son will be safe. I can make pasta casseroles. We can all have healthy-ish snacks of peanut butter and crackers.

My heart isn’t as dark as it was. There is a glimmer of hope there now. I can get through another week.

I know there are a lot of people like me. Hiding in the dark so no one knows.

Find out more about Little Food Pantries here.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.