City church opens little food pantry

Dedication service scheduled for Sunday

Mirror Photo by Holly Claycomb Betsy Gallace and Jane Falco stock the little food pantry.

A new little free food pantry has popped up in the area, an outreach of Providence Presbyterian Church, 2401 Broad Ave., Altoona.

Modeled after the little free libraries, one of which Providence Presbyterian also has, little food pantries are often house-shaped cupboards found outside churches. The shelf-stable food inside is free to anyone in need and, for those who don’t need food but who want to be a part of the movement, donations can be added anytime simply by opening the door and placing items inside.

That’s what has been happening at Providence Presbyterian’s food cupboard, organizers said, ever since it was stocked up by the church’s youth and opened April 24.

Church and mission committee member Jane Falco said she checks the pantry supplies every day and has been thrilled with the community’s support.

“There is always new food in there,” she said. “I never see it, it just appears.”

The little food pantry is in memory of Jane’s husband, Andrew Falco, who passed away last year.

Andrew enjoyed working with the church’s Soup on Saturday outreach, she said, so in lieu of flowers, the family asked people to contribute to the outreach in his memory.

With an abundance of donations, she thought using some of the funds to expand the church’s food outreach would be a good way to remember Andrew.

The little food pantry will be dedicated Sunday, May 15, and will have a memorial plaque placed on the side, she said.

Credit for construction of the food pantry goes to Betsy Gallace and her husband, Falco said. “They did all the physical work.”

But, the Gallaces shied away from any recognition, instead noting that the mission committee spearheaded the pantry, they just did a little bit.

“We don’t do things for the recognition,” Betsy Gallace said, instead it’s a way to honor and glorify God and reach out to help the community. Besides, she said, the pantry is a solid wood cabinet found at a used furniture store. It already had a glass door and the Gallaces had only to refinish it, make a few repairs and add a roof. The glass was replaced with plexiglass to make it less likely to break. The little pantry sits atop a sturdy base made of two 4x4s, Gallace said.

“A lot of people put a lot of work into” creating the pantry, Gallace said.

The pantry is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for anyone in need, Falco said.

“If you need something, you can go down and get it,” Gallace added.

Through church and community donations, the pantry includes substantial food such as pasta and sauce, canned vegetables and fruit, cereal, oatmeal and other foodstuffs as well as personal hygiene items like soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, body wash, single rolls of toilet paper and more. Those items are in a separate compartment found on the backside of the little pantry, to keep the soap away from the food, Gallace said.

Falco is glad people are using the food pantry and also excited to see that others are donating food to help their neighbors in need.

“One day I went by, I thought it was pretty low and went to the store,” Falco said. “When I got back, it was packed.”

The mini food pantry movement is a nationwide grassroots, crowdsourced solution to fill an immediate and local need. Whether a need for food or a need to give, mini pantries help feed neighbors, nourishing neighborhoods, according to littlefreepantry.org. Those who have mini pantries can list them on the website, which is filled with photos and short stories about little pantries found across the U.S.

There are at least two other little food pantries in the area, one in Roaring Spring and another at Trinity Lutheran Church, 408 N. Sixth St.

The Porch Pantry at Trinity United Methodist Church, 434 E. Main St., Roaring Spring, is not housed in a small building, instead shelves filled with food can be found on the covered porch at the main entrance to the church.

The pantry was started during the pandemic to support the community, according to the church’s website.

“The food on the shelves have been provided by the people of our church, the community and through monetary donations. This outreach has been a blessing to so many,” the post reads. “Please, feel free to drop off donations or take what you are in need of.”

Perhaps what is the first little pantry to be set up in the region is still going strong.

Trinity Lutheran’s pantry has been up and running since 2019, and Pastor Elizabeth Hess reports that it is well used.

“It is not only used by the neighborhood, but neighborhood people bring food to supply it as well,” she said.

The church has added a little library since the introduction of the Caring Cupboard and sometimes the library gets filled with food instead of books, she said.

Hess said the church has started putting in non-refrigerated milk or powdered milk after learning that one boy getting food for his mom said he likes Mac n Cheese but sometimes they don’t have any milk.

Another person comes at the end of the month to get a few items, Hess said, possibly to tide himself over until the first of the month.

“Our members take great pride in the cupboard, and they are very loyal to it,” Hess said.

Hess said she thinks the little food pantries are successful because they are there 24 hours a day and there are no questions asked of the people who use them.

“I think it is key to having people not be ashamed of needing help,” she said.

Falco couldn’t be happier that people are using Providence Presbyterian’s pantry.

“It’s just been amazing,” Falco said.


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