Little Free Pantry brought to Iowa City

March 06, 2017

People around the state have seen the Little Free Libraries at homes and public spaces, allowing the free exchange of books. Recently, a young member of Iowa City’s First United Methodist Church is bringing another “Little Free” concept to the town: the Little Free Pantry.
Jack Ballard is currently a senior at Iowa City High School and a member of Boy Scouts. He took on the Little Free Pantry project to become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts.
“The Little Free Pantry was my biggest and final Eagle Scout Project,” said Ballard.
According to a press release, the Little Free Pantry is “another opportunity for neighbors to help neighbors in an immediate and localized manner – a community spot where some may give and others may take.”
The pantry holds food items and other things people may be in need of, such as toiletry items. According to Pastor Barrie Tritle of Iowa City FUMC, where the Little Free Pantry was installed, serves a niche need.
“According to reports, Iowa City has a higher level of food risk than the rest of Iowa,” said Tritle. “There’s a larger number of homeless here and (the Little Free Pantry) is helping out a niche of people who are more single and homeless.”


When Ballard was thinking of a service project to become an Eagle Scout, his parents came across the idea of the Little Free Pantry on social media. The first pantry was stocked in May 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“I thought it was a cool idea,” said Ballard. “At first I was a little skeptical, but it was working out in Arkansas, where it was started.”
Ballard and Boy Scout Troop 212 found specs to build a Little Free Pantry from scratch after reviewing several designs online. He and his 25 scout members then got together at his home and assembled the pantry. According to Ballard, it was a fairly simple assembly with several saw cuts, assembly with a screwdriver and some paint.
Ballard then reached out to Tritle to install the pantry at his church. The church, which is located near downtown Iowa City, was a perfect location for the pantry. It also has a history of helping those in need. For 20 years, Iowa City FUMC hosted a free lunch program. The program was recently moved to a new building in Iowa City, closer to the Salvation Army. The church still participates by hosting a free lunch once a month, with about 75 to 100 people. A number of people still frequent the church for help.
“It’s a great location for people who might need food,” said Ballard. “I also wanted to help out the church because they’ve helped me throughout the years.”
The Little Free Pantry was installed on Jan. 19. Since its installation, Ballard and Tritle said people have already started to utilize the pantry.
“It’s been turning food over and I’ve seen food I didn’t put there,” said Ballard. “People have been leaving and taking food, it’s cool that people are doing that.”
In order to keep a steady stock of pantry items, Ballard is working with his boy scout troop and the congregation to support the project. Boy Scout Troop 212 meets at FUMC every week, so Ballard encouraged his troop members to bring pantry items each week. The congregation checks on the pantry as well when they are at the church and makes sure the pantry is well stocked.

Not a typical pantry

The Little Food Pantry shouldn’t be relied on to provide pervasive needs, but Tritle said it is helpful for people are hungry and need something right away. According to the Little Food Pantry website, the Little Food Pantry’s provide one more resource for those in need. The pantries operate 24 hours per day, so those in need can get quick help anytime. The Little Food Pantry also helps mediates the shame some people feel when they are in need.
“People can slip in and get what they need, then get out and not be seen,” said Tritle.
Above all, the Little Food Pantry idea helps promote community, charity, justice and a sharing economy, which Ballard can attest to.
“If I benefit a few people in the community, that goes around and they help other people in the community,” he said. “Helping makes sure that everyone is a little better.”


Jack Ballard has been a life long member of the Iowa City First United Methodist Church and a member of Boy Scouts for 10 years. In addition to installing the Little Free Pantry, Ballard has been involved with a number of Eagle Scout projects including building bridges in a local park, building Little Free Libraries and helping at blood drives. He was recently accepted to the Colorado School of Mines where he plans to be involved with Boy Scouts as an Adventure Scout.  Jack is a grandson of The Rev. William E. Ballard who was a for nearly 50 years a clergy member of the Iowa Annual Conference,
For more information about the Little Free Pantry, visit