Aley Cristelli is not comfortable with public speaking, but her passion for helping hungry people overrides this discomfort. In an unplanned way, she has become spokesperson for the Little Free Pantry movement in the metro. You may have seen these small wooden boxes, filled with groceries, by the side of the road. The concept is a spin-off of the Little Free Library concept. The goal is to “nourish neighbors.”
“I moved to Oklahoma City, and I was looking for an outlet to get involved,” Aley said. “I read about the pantry movement in Texas, and I kept thinking, I should do that.”
Because of Grandma
Aley’s grandma was the inspiration behind opening her first food pantry. “You couldn’t leave my grandma’s house without a bag of groceries. Food was her love language, and I inherited that. I’m always feeding people. Why should people go without food when we have so much?”
After research, Aley built her first pantry, which she branded as the Pine Pantry. The name came, not from the wood used to build the pantry, but from a deeper meaning. “To pine means ‘to long for.’ I felt like nobody should be longing for food.”
Constant Flow of Food
Aley knew that location was important: a place of need, easy to access and safe. She sought a community partner to keep an eye on the pantry and help her make sure food was available. She placed her first pantry at Bad Granny’s in the Plaza District in 2017, and she now has more partnered pantries at three Sunnyside Diner locations, Bradford Village of Edmond, and Andrew Johnson Elementary.
Twice a week, Aley goes by her pantries to add food and do maintenance. “There’s an organic flow to it all. Once I fill it, it is often empty within a few hours. Someone else fills it at lunch, and then someone else may go after work. Partners and community volunteers I don’t even know add food.”
Aley says it’s gratifying to hear people say thank you when she’s refilling thepantries, but regardless, she can tell need for food is great based on the sheer volume circulating through each site. “I once had a couple share that they were both laid off at the same time. They relied on the pantry until they got new jobs. Now, they regularly stock the pantry.”
The school children at Andrew Johnson and the residents at Bradford Village keep food donation boxes at their facilities. Non-perishable food items can be donated by anyone. Easy-fix items like Spaghetti-Os, granola bars and pudding cups go first, but Aley also sees high circulation of toiletries and baby diapers.
Other pantries are popping up, modeled after Aley’s Pine Pantry. Some look just like her design, but she hopes people will design and brand their own styles. At this point, managing her sites is all she can handle, while also working full-time, but she’s glad to offer advice to others hoping to build a pantry.
“This was my quiet way to serve others. I never planned to be a spokesperson or be on the news all the time, but the need is great. These pantries are well-trafficked,” Aley said. “We aren’t curing the problem of hunger, but it’s helping our own neighbors.”
To learn more, www.littlefreepantry.org or follow Pine Pantry on Facebook