Street food with soul: Church’s outdoor pantry offers household staples free for the taking

Street food with soul: Church’s outdoor pantry offers household staples free for the taking
Photo by Trey Pentecost

This church is taking its charity to the streets — literally.

Leaders at a Park Slope house of worship and a local do-gooder installed an on-street cupboard outside the Prospect Avenue church that good Samaritans can stock with non-perishable foods and other household supplies for needy passersby to freely take.

“When you don’t know how you’ll stretch that last dollar, and you pass by and see a can of tuna and some crackers, you can say, ‘Let’s just do that,’ ” said Park Sloper Emma Hare, who worked with clergy at St. John-St. Matthew-Emanuel Lutheran Church to create the curbside cabinet.

The crimson-painted cubpboard outside the church at 283 Prospect Ave. between Fifth and Sixth avenues, called the “Little Red Pantry,” was inspired by a similarly stocked structure outside a Lutheran church in Arkansas, which many say created the country’s first free, self-serve pantry, according to Park Slope Rev. David Parsons, who with Hare built the cabinet outside his holy house.

Parishioners and big-hearted Brooklynites such as Hare routinely stock the cupboard with canned and other long-lasting foods, as well as staple items including diapers, soap, and detergent — often stopping by after trips to the grocery store, where they stock up on goods for their neighbors while shopping for themselves, Parsons said.

“I see people bringing things on their way home from work, or coming up the hill from the Associated Market around the corner,” the reverend said. “The idea is you’ll buy a little extra at the grocery store and bring it.”

Many pantry patrons are long-time locals who arrived in Park Slope before it gentrified into a neighborhood of stroller-pushing parents whose kids sip babyccinos, and now need a helping hand to make ends meet, according to Parsons.

“They’re house rich, but not necessarily that able to care for themselves, and could use a little help,” he said.

But there’s no lock on the cabinet that love built, and people can grab the items therein whether they truly need them or not, the reverend said.

“In a perfect world, every person that takes the food would be someone who really needs it,” he said. “But in reality, there’s not going to be a sheriff standing by the pantry asking if people really need things.”

Anyone feeling generous can stock the pantry at any time, according to Parsons, who said if do-gooders arrive to find its shelves full, they can leave their donations just inside the church’s doors, or on its front steps if those are locked.

Interested donors who can’t make the trip can order and ship goods straight to the house of worship via the pantry’s Amazon online wish list.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.