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Washington State University Extension

Press release: Little Free Pantries are getting “cooler”

Posted by danielle.carson | February 1, 2024

You’ve seen them around. Maybe you’ve donated some canned soups after a grocery store run or some fresh fruit from your yard. Maybe you’ve picked up some grocery items on your way back from work or snagged a snack on the way to class in the morning. The Little Free Pantry (LFP) network in Clallam County has been helping community members access much-needed free food since 2019, and has grown significantly in that time, up to 26 LFPs spanning the entire county, from Forks and Beaver through Joyce, Port Angeles and Sequim.

Similar to the Little Free Libraries that have been around for years, these free food pantries are installed by generous hosts in public-facing areas outside of homes, faith centers and service agencies. Without closing hours, eligibility reviews or use limits, Little Free Pantries offer an invaluable resource to those facing economic hardship and food insecurity by being available to anyone at any time. Sustained by donations from the hosts and community members, these small sites are an important part of the kaleidoscope of formal and informal food access supports across Clallam County.

Now, the LFP network has added its very first Little Free Fridge, located at the Port Angeles First Step Family Support Center, alongside a traditional Free Pantry. Being able to offer nutritious food through the fridge vastly improves the healthful potential of available free food – especially as good-hearted gardeners from the nearby community gardens and all across town help keep that fridge stocked with locally-grown vegetables and fruits.


“This pantry and fridge allow us to help meet the needs of families and our community, even outside of our standard operating hours,” says Elisia Anderson, executive director of the Port Angeles First Step Family Support Center. “Our Little Free Fridge often holds items such as produce, eggs, milk, and other perishable items that would not work in a standard Little Free Pantry. Our team monitors the fridge and pantry regularly to ensure items stay fresh and replenishes supplies as often as we can. While we knew that the pantry and fridge would be utilized, we had no idea just how busy they would be. We love to see families pop over and pick up a snack to eat at the picnic table in our garden, pick up staples to supplement their tables or find hygiene items they need. I wish everyone who donates to our fridge and pantry could see the little kiddos dance with joy when they find the perfect snack or when someone opens the pantry and gets excited over the items they find. We are honored to be able to support this project in our community.”


Man with book stands by little free pantry
Food Access Coordinator Benji Astrachan stocks a Port Angeles LFP with cookbooks, food and drinking water.


What is the Little Free Pantry network?

The Little Free Pantry network is a program from the WSU Clallam Extension’s Community Health and SNAP-Ed team, and supported by the educational branch of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The LFPs began in 2019 when a community group called Compassion Clallam County launched a community town hall discussion that identified food access and the gaps in the emergency food system as a major issue in our rural community. With the Extension office as a perfect partner already deeply engaged in food security work, Compassion group members recruited the first LFP host on Cherry Street and built several more models. With these first few Pantries just being built and installed in March of 2019, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program couldn’t have come at a more significant time. Across the country, and indeed across our county as well, food insecurity and hunger rose at unprecedented rates during late 2020 and 2021, with 1 in 8 people – and 1 in 6 children – struggling to find their next meals. Unfortunately, the numbers of food insecurity in Clallam County have always been higher than those national figures, in part due to the geographically isolated and rural nature of the North Olympic Peninsula.

However, as people saw the struggles increasing in their community, they leapt into action, and the WSU Clallam Extension office was there to help by leveraging community donations and staff resources to identify and recruit new hosts, source and build new Pantry units, connect hosts with donors and troubleshoot legal and logistical questions. As the Compassion Clallam County group began to wane in its supportive capacity, the Extension office was able to take over administrative and leadership tasks for the LFP network to ensure its sustained existence.

Food Access SNAP-Ed Coordinator Benji Astrachan, who has advised and led the LFP program since its inception, says “The need for free low-barrier points of food access is evident, based on the need that we see across the County at our LFP sites. Most of the Pantries are refilled and emptied out several times a day, right in line with the staggering numbers seen at local food banks and meal programs. We know that the pandemic hit Clallam hard, and we see that our fellow community members are still struggling to stay afloat today, as inflation and food prices climb, and new extreme weather events impact the agricultural sector throughout the growing season. The LFPs are a unique way to add one more resource into the toolkit in the fight against hunger and food insecurity.”

First Step and the LFP network – a comprehensive collaboration to support Clallam’s families

First Step Family Support Center has been working for and with families since 1972 and offers a variety of programs designed to strengthen families with young children and the community as a whole. They currently offer over 20 different programs in Clallam and Jefferson Counties, and regularly serve over 1,500 families each year.

First Step offers support to families in a variety of ways, including home visiting programs, Kaleidoscope Play and Learn groups, Drop-In Resource Centers, free clothing and equipment closets, and a free safety equipment program that offers education and supplies needed for safe sleep, safe car seats and baby-proofing homes. The Center is also home to a diaper bank that provides free diapers and wipes to families through eight community-based diaper depots. First Step’s suite of programs are woven together by the deep belief that parents are their child’s first and most important teacher, their child’s emotional home, and their child’s best advocate and protector. Programs are designed to build on current family strengths, develop protective factors in families’ lives, and reduce the impact of trauma.

First Step’s resource centers often partner with the WSU Clallam Extension office to distribute gleaned produce and plant starts, as well as offer nutrition and cooking classes. This expanded partnership around the Little Free Pantry and Fridge is a natural fit to help tackle food insecurity together. Housing the county’s first Little Free Fridge at First Step was a no-brainer, as this location offers proximity to a power supply, regular staffing support, and a safe and trusted location that families already frequent.

Group of people standing behind newly built pantries
Community members assembled in 2020 for a builders’ day to construct new LFPs.


How can community members join this exciting initiative?

The LFP Network relies on generous community members throughout Clallam County. Many folks have informally ‘adopted’ a nearby LFP and keep an eye on it while donating whatever pantry items they can. It is also community members at each agency or faith organization that hosts the Little Free Pantry who keep it regularly stocked. Through this collective compassion and neighborly spirit, the LFP network has been able to stand as another option in the struggle against hunger for many locals. If you are interested in getting involved, follow the LFP motto: ‘take what you need and give what you can’;  community members are always encouraged to both take and give as they see fit.

Interested in hosting a new Pantry site? Reach out to WSU Extension Coordinator Benji Astrachan at to talk about how best to create a new Little Free Pantry.