Little Boxes Help Fight Food Insecurity

Photographer: Duane Tinkey

On the campus at Drake University, a bright blue box sided with shake shingles greets visitors and gardeners at the Sprout: The Des Moines Urban Youth Learning Garden. Open the little box, roughly 2-feet square, and find pastas, canned goods and more. All are free and ready to grab for a meal for anyone in need.

Known as little free pantries, these boxes are popping up across the country and right here in Iowa. Started in 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the concept relies on community members to stock the pantries with food, paper products, personal care items and more.

The designs are bright and varied. Some appear at churches, others at community gardens. “We nourish our neighbors” and “take what you need, leave what you can” are both guiding principles. Sometimes corporate donors help with the initiative.

For the Drake University project (the area is a classified as a food desert), the Wellmark Foundation granted $10,000 to the initiative in 2016 (the pantry at Sprout was reinstalled this past spring). Three were built on campus. Students participating in the project worked with Drake neighborhood groups to host additional pantries throughout the area.

Other Iowa cities and towns with little free pantries include Decorah, Fairfield, Mason City, Sioux City and more.

The pantries are easy to access. For an interactive map and more information about the initiative, visit

Iowa Stops Hunger is a Business Publications Corporation initiative to raise awareness of hunger in Iowa and inspire action to combat it.