What started a little over one year ago with a new Gulfport resident expressing a concern about food security on behalf of others to the president of the non-profit Gulfport Neighbors group, has manifested itself into the installation of a trio of Little Free Pantries in the city.
The latest one was dedicated on Tuesday, March 13 at the Gulfport Public Library, 5501 28th Ave. S. Specifically, the pantry is located near the northwest corner of the parking lot.
“It’s a great thing that we’re doing in the community,” said Karen Vanderbeek, a volunteer with Gulfport Neighbors. “It’s an unconditional way to try to help people. It’s easy for us to fill it and there are no requirements for use. I think it’s perfect.”
Two pantries installed earlier are located near the entrance to the Gulfport Fire Department, 5314 23rd Ave. S., and next to the street-level sign of the Presbyterian Church, 5313 27th Ave. S.
The Gulfport Neighbors arranged to have all three pantries built by two local artisans, Tom Pitzen and his son Lucas, said Margarete Tober, president.
“I’d love to have a fourth one on 49th Street South if someone can find us a location,” said Tober.
A variety of people are dedicated to stocking the pantries with non-perishable food.
“This is a really great thing to benefit the community,” said Dave Mather, library director. “They can walk by and get what they need at any time.”
Following the example of the Clearwater Public Library, Mather is planning on proposing a “food for fines” program to members of the Gulfport City Council in November. Instead of paying a late fine for an overdue book, people could donate canned goods.
“Other libraries in the area cooperative do that as well but it would be a first for Gulfport. I thought about doing it for the pantry at the Senior Center but now that we have our own it’s even better,” said Mather.
The free food pantry located at the Senior Center has registration requirements based on criteria like age.
A member from the local Optimists Club who attended the dedication ceremony at the library said the organization has an interest in keeping the three Little Free Pantries stocked.
“It’s a very good cause and I’m going to do what I can to make sure the Gulfport Neighbors and the community get help for this project,” said David Joseph Flack, member of the local Breakfast Optimist Club of St. Petersburg.