Georgia Impact Health & Wellness Society & Culture

UGA builds Little Free Pantries for Athenians

From left, GIKI Program Coordinator Wick Prichard, Americorps VISTA Rachel Pless, Clarke Central High School student Mara Smith, and Americorps VISTA Chelsey Willoughby. (Photo by Shannah Montgomery)

Office of Service-Learning, VISTA work with youths in the community

Residents in two Athens apartment communities have ready access to food and basic personal needs through Little Free Pantries built by the University of Georgia’s Office of Service-Learning.

OSL’s Grow It Know It program built the wooden boxes for the Bethel Homes and Clarke Gardens apartment complexes using money from a Youth Service America grant, which encourages youths and young adults to engage in community service.

The original plan was to launch a Junior Campus Kitchen program at Clarke Central High School, said Wick Prichard, GIKI program coordinator. Campus Kitchen is a student-run organization at UGA that gathers, prepares and delivers meals to food-insecure families in the Athens area.

A viable alternative

“But with COVID-19 and the school moving online, that didn’t happen,” Prichard said.

The Little Free Pantry project was a viable alternative, Youth Service America told Prichard.

CCHS junior Mara Smith, who had worked with Prichard on the Junior Campus Kitchen project and knew him from the Grow It Know It program at Clarke Middle School, helped launch the pantry project.

(Photo by Shannah Montgomery)

“I know how it is when you really need help and there is no one there to help you,” Smith said. “I love Grow It Know It; I’ve been with it since sixth grade. They helped me and I’m so grateful to be able to help others now.”

The pantries were built and installed by Smith, Isaac Gay and Graham Gay, Clarke Central students who also had been involved in planning the Junior Campus Kitchen program. Youth in Bethel Homes helped with installation as well. Prichard plans to involve youth in Clarke Gardens when the pantries are installed in that neighborhood.

Community pitches in

Community volunteer Hallie Celestand also became involved in the project. Celestand had gotten to know Prichard over the summer through work with Americorps VISTA, Grow It Know It and tending gardens at Clarke and Hilsman middle schools where Prichard runs GIKI, teaching sixth to eighth grade students about agriculture and nutrition. Prichard and VISTA provided Celestand with produce from those gardens to give to 300 Bethel Homes and Clarke Gardens residents each week. In addition, chef Hugh Acheson and the staff at Athens 5&10 restaurant prepared meals for Celestand to deliver to the residents.

Prichard learned Celestand had local connections that could make the pantries a reality. Community organizations, UGA student groups and churches are among those being asked to sponsor the Little Free Pantries and keep them stocked.

Smith plans to stay involved too.

“I would like to do more volunteering or work and get more involved,” Smith said. “With [Prichard’s] help, I can keep working on this project and help keep the pantries stocked.