Church opens ‘Little Free Pantry’ to feed the hungry

Bishop Rick Jaech, left, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and Dawna Svaren, pastor at Ocean Park Lutheran Church, presided at a ceremony Sunday in which the Little Free Pantry project was dedicated. Church leaders see it as a practical way of helping the less fortunate in the Long Beach community.

The only ones who might be unhappy about Ocean Park Lutheran Church’s new ministry are bears.

Church leaders have installed a new free public pantry in Long Beach.

It’s open to all to donate or receive — but it is in a sturdy, bear-proof container.

“Pacific County is one of the poorest counties in Washington state,” said Pastor Dawna Svaren. “We have a lot of families and community members who suffer from food insecurity.”

A group of congregants gathered under a temporary shelter for a dedication ceremony Sunday. Svaren told them that some 24 million adults and 13 million children in the United States face hunger every day.

“This free pantry is a tangible way of helping those in the community who struggle day to day.”

The “Little Free Pantry” is an appliance-sized brown metal container on the corner of Second Street Northeast and Oregon Avenue North in downtown Long Beach, across from the phone company facility just north of the Key Bank branch. Its door has a tight latch, designed to foil bears.

The land is owned by congregation member Rose Wallace, whose “little free library” box has existed on the site for some while.

Wallace said the Ocean Park church’s women’s group learned of the success of the idea, which started a couple of years ago in the Midwest, and led the drive to replicate it on the Peninsula.

“The pantry will be monitored daily to ensure a clean, tidy box and appropriate items,” said Wallace, the church’s financial secretary. “This pantry is in a bear-safe container, because of the frequent incidents with bears being attracted to food in our area.”

Organizers are hoping community members will donate nonperishable prepackaged food items, canned proteins and vegetables, as well as personal care items. Paper goods are welcome, as well as child-friendly non-perishables, crayons, plus inexpensive party favors in summer and school supplies in August.  

“The motto is, ‘Take what you need, share what you can’” Wallace added.

Perishable food and anything potentially dangerous, like razors, must not be left. People wishing to donate used clothing are asked to find other locations.

Guest of honor at Sunday’s dedication was Bishop Rick Jaech of the Southwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in Tacoma. He led prayers, commended the congregation for converting the church’s teachings into action, then helped load in the first batch of items.

“This is a place that you can bring food and receive food,” Jaech said. “We are setting up an opportunity for people to do good.”

As pastor, Svaren believes turning words into action is a key. “I am excited that are able to make a real tangible difference in this community,” she said.

A second Little Free Pantry is being considered for a location in Ocean Park, with details to be announced.

‘This free pantry is a tangible way of helping those in the community who struggle day to day.’

— Dawna Svaren

pastor, Ocean Park Lutheran Church

Items to donate:

• Unopened prepackaged non-perishable food, canned proteins and vegetables

• Personal care items

What to avoid:

• Perishable foodstuffs,

• Sharps (razors) or other dangerous items

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