As schools closed to in-person instruction in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students were left without a reliable supply of meals. Food insecurity — already a problem in Vanderburgh County where, according to Feeding America, 14.5 percent of the population identified as food insecure in 2018 — was only exacerbated as families struggled to feed everyone at their table.
Schools like Dexter Elementary began providing take-home lunches for students in 2020. Long queues of cars lined surrounding streets as families waited to pick up meals for their children.
“It was kind of a slow-moving line. This lady rolled her window down, and you could just tell she was uncomfortable,” says Emily Millsap, who lives on South Villa Drive near the school. “She said, ‘I’m sorry that we’re blocking the whole street,’ and it hit me: She’s just trying to get food for her family. (She) can sit out here all day; it doesn’t bother me in the least.”
Seeing cars lined up outside her house day after day sparked a desire to help struggling families. The solution came in the form of a free pantry, a small wooden box stocked with non-perishable food and personal care items such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste.
Millsap initially built a structure from an old pharmacy cabinet that resembled a Little Free Library and installed it in her front yard. After it didn’t hold up in poor weather, she built a new one using sturdier material with a friend’s help.
Any passerby can take from or donate to the pantry. Millsap, who works full time as the senior director of financial planning at Facet Wealth, says she sometimes restocks the pantry several times a day. She says people stop by at all times of the day, rain or shine, for needed items.
“Having something that’s neighborhood-based, where people can stop by on the way walking their kids to and from school or on their way home from work to grab what they need, is really important,” she says.
Food for Thought ~ instagram.com/villadrivefreepantry/