Little Free Pantry helps feed the working poor in Reading

Allen Hill knows what it’s like to be hungry. This motivated him to set up the Reading Little Free Pantry.

Cabinet containing food mounted on post“I grew up in a working poor family in Reading,” he said. “There were times when we’d eat the same thing every day for a week or two at time. Sometimes we just didn’t have any food.”

Now he and his wife, Kelly, own Lace Bridal Couture and Love Curvy Bridal in the Reading bridal district. They plan to open a third shop, Cincy Bridal, this fall. “I remember someone told me, people who do well should do good,” Allen said. “It’s kind of my motto in life.” He knew that when he could, he was going to open a food pantry.

The Little Free Pantry model is based on the premise that people take what they need and give what they can. It appeals to Allen because of the anonymity it provides. “The working poor don’t want to say ‘hey, I’m poor, I’m hungry.’ There’s a stigma around that,” he said. “I wanted to alleviate that. This is where someone can go and get what they need 24/7, and your neighbors don’t have to see that you’re hurting or where the food came from.”

Allen estimates that in the first 40 days the Reading Little Free Pantry has provided close to 1,000 meals. “I am overjoyed at how it’s being utilized,” he said. “That’s the exciting part to me – I’m just happy that people are finding it who need it.”

The pantry is stocked with items he purchases, as well as donations from the Reading Fire Department, Redwine & Co, and anonymous donors. Students at Reading’s Central Elementary School recently donated 700 cans of food.

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For communities interested in setting up a similar pantry, Allen says that location and communication are both important. The Reading Little Free Pantry is located behind Lace Bridal, which gives some privacy for people accessing it. Being across the street from the Reading police and fire departments adds security.

Communication is also key, so that people who need the pantry will find it, and those who can will donate items. Allen created a Reading Little Free Pantry Facebook page and also gets the message out through Reading’s community social media pages.

There’s also an element of trust. “Someone asked me, what if someone takes almost everything out?” Allen said. “My response is, well, I guess they needed it – that’s what it’s there for.”

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