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Understanding Micro-pantries as an Emergency Food Source During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Micro-pantries represent a solution during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Sometimes called blessing boxes, they resemble Little Free Libraries and are small structures that individuals or groups place in communities and allow neighbors to leave or take foods and household supplies as needed. The Little Free Pantry website describes the micro-pantry movement as “a grassroots, crowdsourced solution to immediate and local need.”

Typically, an individual volunteer (referred to as a steward) or organization (eg, hospital or church) provides basic upkeep, but the system is anonymous and open to all to take or contribute. Many micro-pantries have a sign on them letting the public know anyone is welcome to take what you need and leave what you can. Although central data are not kept on the number of micro-pantries, and many are home-grown and not accounted for by national organizations, some evidence suggests their rapid adoption during the pandemic. The establishment of a micro-pantry in a community is often accompanied by a local news article. An Access World News (NewsBank, accessed through the Tufts University library) search of Little Free Pantries in US news sources yielded 196 articles in 2018, 253 in 2019, and 646 in 2020.


The charitable food sector, including food banks and pantries, are an important response to food insecurity in usual (non-pandemic) times. Although most food assistance is provided by the public sector in the US, in 2019, food banks and pantries distributed food to > 40 million people. Food banks play a major role in providing short-term, immediate relief in crisis and are increasingly being used in cases of longer-term food insecurity. However, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic disrupted the charitable food sector, especially in the earliest phases of the pandemic, just as food insecurity was estimated to have tripled.

Some food pantries were forced to close, and those that remained open-faced shortages in volunteers and funding as well as a change in procedures, including more limited access times and a lack of choice, because of measures to limit person-to-person contact.

The struggles and challenges of the charitable food sector suggest a lack of resilience, which the National Academy of Sciences describes as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.”

Related Podcasts

Podcast on micropantries

E154: Micropantries and Community Resilience during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Friday, January 21, 2022

Today, we're going to speak about micropantries as a form of community resilience in the face of the food insecurity exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our guests today are Reverend Wendy Miller Olapade of the United Church of Christ in Medford, Massachusetts, professor Norbert Wilson, who's Professor of Food Economics and Community at Duke University, and lead author of a recent paper on micropantries in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Sara Folta, with the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition, Science, and Policy.


Related Resources

Micro-pantries During Covid-19 Pandemic
Wednesday, January 19, 2022


Micropantry research

Norbert L W Wilson, Larissa Calancie, Janna Adkins, Sara C Folta, Understanding Micro-pantries as an Emergency Food Source During the COVID-19 Pandemic, J Nutr Educ Behav. 2022 Apr;54(4):299-310. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2021.11.002. Epub 2022 Jan 14.

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January 1, 2020 - May 1, 2022


  • Norbert L. Wilson, Duke University
  • Larissa Calancie, Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition
  • Janna Adkins, Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition
  • Sara Folta, Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition


Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts Unviersity