By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
This year, for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the city of Kentwood decided to honor the civil rights leader by partnering with The Pantry and opening a “little free pantry” where people can take or leave food and household supplies.
“This is the one day of the year I believe represents Kentwood,” said Mayor Stephen Kepley to an audience at the KDL Kentwood Library where the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. program took place on Monday.
“Because of what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for, who he was, what he said and what he did, his actions helped to make the city what it is today. Kentwood is one of the most diverse and international cities in the state.”
With a population of more than 50,000, the city has approximately 60 different cultures speaking more than 70 different languages. According to Kepley, this diversity probably would never have happened without King’s vision of people “…one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.”
Kepley said King taught people to “love their neighbors as yourself…Because how can you hate them if you love them?”
Noting that King was not a man of just words but actions, Kentwood leaders decided to follow King’s actions by partnering with The Pantry, located at John Knox Presbyterian Church, for the community’s first Little Free Pantry.
Started in Arkansas with the motto “Neighbors serving neighbors,” the Little Free Pantry is similar to the little free library movement. The pantries are designed to be small and fill an immediate and local need. Basically, take an item or items when needed and leave an item or items when you can.
“It’s residents helping residents, neighbors helping neighbors,” said community leader Jessica Ann Tyson, who was the host at Monday’s event. “If you are going to the store and you are picking up some macaroni and cheese, pick up an extra one for the pantry.”
Tyson said there is a need within the city as 9.8 percent of the families in Kentwood live below the poverty line. For a family of four, the poverty line is $24,300. For an individual, it is $11,880 or less. Other figures Tyson had was that 14.6 of the Kentwood population live under the poverty line, including .6.8 percent are under the age of 18 and 7.6 percent are over the age of 65. Tyson also noted that there are about 5,000 food assistance cases in Kentwood.
She said the Little Food Pantry is anonymous, with people not required to fill out an application to receive items.
Located inside the Kentwood Activities Center, the Free Little Pantry is open year around. Donations of food items such as brown rice, cereals, canned goods, pasta, and peanut butter, and personal care items, such as deodorant, disposable razors, laundry soap, shampoo, toilet paper, can be dropped off at the Kentwood Activities Center, 355 48th St. SE, or to The Pantry, 4150 Kalamazoo Ave. SE. Other items accepted are crayons, small toys, games and school supplies.
The Free Little Pantry is open during the Kentwood Activities Center regular hours. For more information about the Little Free Pantry, call the Kentwood Activities Center at 616-656-5270.