Serena McDonald, Praise Cathedral’s outreach coordinator, and Jerry Schwedler, project coordinator, are proud of the church’s new Little Free Pantry. Those in need of food can take an item from the pantry for free, while those who can are encouraged to donate dry or canned goods.
PINELLAS PARK – As part of its outreach program, Praise Cathedral, 4371 76th Ave. N., recently installed a Little Free Pantry as a way of reaching the homeless and food insecure.
“It’s a takeoff on the Little Free Library,” said Jerry Schwedler, who oversees the project for the Pinellas Park church.
He’s referring to small library boxes that have popped up around the country. The concept is simple. People donate books they’ve read by dropping them off in one of these free boxes. Those in need of a book, take one.
The idea behind the Little Free Pantry is the same, he said. The pantry is stocked with dry and canned goods. Those in need of food can grab what they need. Those with some extra items at home are encouraged to donate their surplus to the cause.
“The premise was you take what you want and leave a can or two,” he said.
“It may never work like that here,” he added, noting that there are a number of hungry people in the community.
Schwedler built the pantry with his son. They found and cut the wood to build the frame, while the materials for the window that makes up the pantry’s door was donated by Farco Plastics Supply. The company offered them the sheet of plastic for free, he said.
“They told me, ‘You’re doing the Lord’s work. Let us know if you need some more,’” he said.
Many of the food items being offered were donated to Schwedler for the project in the months leading up to the pantry’s installation. Every morning he stops by the pantry to restock it.
“I have to replenish it daily,” he said. “There is so much need here. The way cans have been leaving, you can tell families are using it now.”
The pantry supplements the church’s twice monthly regular food pantry, which opens up the second and fourth Fridays of each month.
Schwedler, who was an auto mechanic for 45 years and also served in the Navy, has been working to distribute food to the needy for more than a decade. He previously ran the food pantry at New Journey Fellowship, which was located just down the block from Praise Cathedral before relocating.
“We had a grocery store there,” he said. “Everything but a cashier.”
He also assisted with other pantries, including the Taking It to the Streets food pantry.
Schwedler said the Little Food Pantry is the only one of its kind in Pinellas Park – and likely the only one of its kind in the Tampa Bay region, based on the research he’s done. He’s also hoping it won’t be the last.
“If this works the way it’s supposed to, I wouldn’t be opposed to putting one somewhere else in the city,” he said.
For now, he’s focused on this first pantry. He hopes that as people realize it’s there, more residents – no matter what their religious beliefs are – will donate food items.
“It’s an easy way to help. You can just open the pantry and drop off your donations,” said Serena McDonald, the church’s outreach coordinator. “It’s an easy way to make a difference.”
Those with large food or monetary donations for the project can contact her at 727-544-3293.