‘Little Free Library’ Becomes Food Pantry to Help Those in Need

In January, longtime Campbell resident Julie McDonald planned to install a free pantry on the corner of Hacienda Avenue and Walnut Drive, right off Winchester Boulevard. There was only one problem: key parts had yet to arrive.

McDonald, the HR director at Edge Gravity in Santa Clara, was resigned to delaying the project—until the coronavirus pandemic accelerated those plans. If ever the community needed a dose of positivity, she figured, now was the time.

'Little Free Pantries' are cropping up throughout the U.S.

McDonald’s family and a couple of their friends completed the pantry in mid-March, and it serves as a reminder that people are coming together to serve others in need.

With store shelves emptied from panic-buying, good Samaritans in Silicon Valley and beyond are taking it upon themselves to turn their “Little Free Libraries” into “Little Free Pantries”—honor-system cabinets stocked with non-perishable food for those in need.

“At this time, a lot of people need the extra help,” said McDonald, who serves on the board of directors for the Casa de Mir Montessori School and along with her husband has been a host family for San Jose Giants players for the last 14 years. “More people are free to help, so this was good timing for everyone [to get the pantry up and running].”

The pantry—which stands at five feet tall, three feet wide and a foot-and-a-half deep—is stocked with a variety of items, including food, hygiene products and toys. The pantry gets stocked with new items everyday, courtesy of the generosity from people who want to make sure it's never empty.

Once the installation of the pantry was complete, McDonald’s biggest initial concern was having to keep the pantry stocked by herself. However, she has been pleasantly surprised in the items that come in daily, whether it’s a stuffed animal, toy or fresh fruit.

“A couple of my neighbors would text me saying they’re heading over to the pantry to keep each other updated on how it looks,” said McDonald, who lives half a block away from the pantry. “It looks like a lot of neighbors are enthusiastic about it, and they continue to participate and contribute. There definitely seems to be a need because people are losing jobs, and hopefully this will help them in some way.”

The only time the pantry is occupied is when people are donating items or picking them up. McDonald credited furniture store Terra Amico for providing the frame of the pantry and charging for only parts, not labor.

Her husband, Rick, installed the roof and side door of the pantry, while their daughter A.J. and one of her friends were responsible for painting it.

All told, it took two to three days for Rick to assemble the pantry and another couple of days for A.J. and her friend to paint it. “It was time well worth spent,” Julie said. “I’ve always liked the communal aspect of a neighborhood pantry and how it could provide for those in need. Now seemed like the perfect time do it.”


  1. From what I can see, the unit looks really well made, even bolted to the concrete. Are plans for such a device available anywhere, open source of course? Would be nice for a complete parts list, too!

    Kudos to the McDonald family and friends for seeing the project through to completion!

  2. > good Samaritans in Silicon Valley and beyond

    I like the New Testament passage about :”the good Samaritan”.

    It capsulizes the essential doctrine of Christianity.

    It is also a very pointed rebuke and condemnation of tribalism and identity politics.

    Jesus done good!


    Parable of the Good Samaritan

    “But he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
    Jesus answered, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”

    He said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

    Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

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