BERLIN – Members of Bethany United Methodist Church in Berlin dedicated its first Little Free Pantry this week.
Located on the church’s property off Route 611, the wooden structure, named the Bethany Blessing Box, provides a place where community members can both take and donate food and personal care items at their discretion.
Similar in concept to the Little Free Library, the Little Free Pantry offers access to free resources utilizing community support.
Merrie McElrath, a Sunday school teacher at Bethany United Methodist, said she heard about the Little Free Pantry through social media earlier this year and soon approached both the church’s outreach team and committee members to establish a similar operation in the area.
She said alarming statistics on the county’s population fueled her determination to install a community pantry box.
“Shortly after the idea for the pantry came to me, I read an article about 30 percent of the households in Worcester County being under the poverty line and struggling with food insecurity and knew this would be a great addition to our community,” she said.
With the committee’s support and the county’s approval, McElrath said the church has since established its version of a Little Free Pantry, dubbed the Bethany Blessing Box.
“It gives us an opportunity to reach people who need a meal for the night,” she said. “It’s the proverbial neighborhood cup of sugar.”
McElrath explained that the Blessing Box will serve as both an outreach tool and a safety net when traditional food pantries are closed in the evenings, on weekends and during holidays.
“It’s not just a food pantry, but a way to open dialogue about ways to best serve our community,” she said.
McElrath said the box is located near the parking lot entrance and is open at all hours for those wishing to donate or take needed items.
At any given time, the pantry may contain canned foods, personal care items, school supplies, paper goods and the like, but prohibits sharp objects, chemical products, items in glass containers, homemade food, and items that are expired, opened or missing original packaging.
“There’s a mix of things in there,” she said.
Though this will be the first box established by the church, McElrath explained that she is already working to establish other Little Free Pantry locations throughout the county.
“I’m excited for it to grow,” she said.
McElrath said she has taught Sunday school at Bethany United Methodist since the early 1990s and added that the free pantry will teach current and future children to give back and nurture the program for generations to come.
“We want to keep it going,” she said, “even after I’m long gone.”
McElrath encouraged those with questions about the Bethany Blessing Box to call her at 443-783-0547.