Hewlett church's Little Pantry fills a big need

Hewlett pantry

Republished with permission. Originally published by the Long Island Herald.

By: Lisa Margaria of the LI Herald

Trinity St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Hewlett, has a take-one-leave-one food pantry — named the Little Pantry — designed for quick and low-key pickup for those in need.

The Little Pantry was started at the first peak of the pandemic in March 2020 as a reaction to widespread reporting about hunger, food deserts, and poverty, the church’s Rev. Chris Ballard said.

Ballard had seen other organizations do these small pantries before, “and really wanted to inspire our congregation to do something,” he said, “because everyone was in quarantine.” 

The church built a six feet tall green box with shelves and a slanted roof, visible on Broadway and enclosed by two see-through Plexiglas doors that makes the Little Pantry accessible to the public. 

It was important to create the Little Pantry to be as visible and easily accessible as possible, Ballard said, as there is “so much shame about poverty in our own society.” 

The Little Pantry was built on the far side of church grounds closest to the bus stop at the intersection of Broadway and Trinity Place. The pantry is visible from the bus stop. 

“It is made so that it's off the beaten path,” Ballard said, as trees on the green lawn of the church’s side property surround the pantry. “So, you can walk up to it if you are someone in need and get something that you might just need for the day to be able to feed yourself or your family.”

Because the pantry is meant as a “stop gap” for little things that people may need in the moment, Ballard said, it may be less humiliating than walking into a larger walk-in and shop-around pantry such as the Gural JCC’s food pantry in Cedarhurst, which Ballard complimented. 

“It's not meant to be a full on food pantry where you would go and as a family and stock up.” Ballard said, “It's really meant for the immediate and the momentary need.”

The pantry’s low-key, grab-and-go design removes the discomfort of asking for help or the obviousness of accepting help, which many people like to keep under wraps. “In the five towns, there is need,” Ballard said, “— it is just oftentimes hidden.”

Ballard’s husband, Seale Ballenger, has been a “major supporter” of the pantry since its beginning, Ballard said, always making sure it is stocked. Ballenger takes many trips to Costco to maintain the pantry, Ballard added. 

Ballenger “is the one who sort of drives the congregation and inspires them to help out,” said Ballard, adding that Ballenger “continues to be the main driving force.”

Church congregants, neighbors and passersby also help stock the pantry, and the church also circulates an Amazon wedding registry, which you can use to donate to the pantry.

To donate to the Little Pantry, drop food items off at the pantry itself or visit the Amazon wedding registry, shorturl.at/mzX37.

Reposted in Hewlett Woodmere District 14 Residents Facebook group

Yesterday (June 17), I was restocking the Little Pantry and realized that I had forgotten to pack cans of tuna and fruit cups. I ran back into the church to get them and as I came back out of the Parish Hall, I noticed a middle aged man looking at me sheepishly as he walked away from the pantry. Because many people have shame around food insecurity and the need for help, I encouraged him not to leave, but instead stay and take what he needed. He told me he had heard about resources like ours, but had never seen one. He said he was showing his mother the pantry and as we talked she emerged from behind it and started to walk away as well. I motioned for them to come closer and told them to take what they needed. The woman shyly took a can of beans off a shelf, slipping them into her purse and as she did, she looked at the ground as if she had done something wrong. I blurted out, ‘everyone needs help … that’s what it’s here for,’ and encouraged her to take more. She motioned for one of the cans of tuna I held and as I handed it to her she asked if she could have the Bible that was stacked among some books on the top shelf. I said, ‘of course,’ and as I reached in and handed it to her, the old woman looked at me directly and then bowed her head, reached out for my hand, took it and said, ‘Thank God for this church, this food and these people.’ We all stood awkwardly for a moment and as they turned to walk away, I mumbled, ‘Thank God for you and your family.’ They both smiled, nodded their heads and left quietly. Today I am grateful for unexpected encounters and moments of grace.”