FLHD Student Creates Free Little Pantries for Community in Need

Published: October 21, 2021 | Author: Savannah Byers | Read Time: 4 minutes

Heather Tilley restocking free pantriesTo help the homeless and food insecure populations in Lexington, Kentucky after the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Utah University senior Heather Tilley expanded the network of Free Little Pantries in the downtown area. Free Little Pantries are small pantry-like boxes stocked with food by community members for anyone to take- no strings attached.

This project originally was created to fulfill a course requirement. Tilley recently took Professor Maren Hirschi’s FLHD 4350 course, Fostering Family, School, and Community Partnerships. This course centered around community engagement requires students to complete a final project of their choice.

“Heather Tilley has taken several online classes from me,” said Professor Maren Hirschi, assistant professor of family life and human development. “She takes her coursework seriously and doesn't let the fact that she is an online student and lives on the opposite side of the country get in her way of engaging in the learning environment. She has been consistently thoughtful and thorough in her work which can be illustrated by how she completed a service learning project for my FLHD 4350: Fostering Family, School, and Community Partnerships course. She communicated in many ways that it was important to her to make this project meaningful. It's obvious she really embraced the whole point of this project both by how she completed the assignment as well as in her commitment to make it much more than an assignment by continuing with the project even though the due date for the assignment has long since passed.”

The idea for this project originally came from a friend of Tilley’s who started her own Little Free Pantry. The project started as a food drive for the existing pantry, but later expanded due to an outpour of support from the community. The editor of a local newspaper donated a storage unit full of newspaper boxes to convert to Little Free Pantries, and community members continued to donate food. Within the timeframe of the class, Tilley had facilitated the creation of four new Little Free Pantries in the downtown Lexington area, including one she maintains on her property.

“The community side of this project has been awesome,” said Tilley. “The interactions with the neighbors have been really good, and they have helped out a lot. There has been no negative feedback, so far only excitement.”

The project isn’t over yet. Because of the enthusiasm in the community, a Facebook group was created to connect community members and share the food donations that keep coming in. Additionally, a local school and business have continued to create Little Free Pantries around town from the donated newspaper boxes.

Tilley’s advice to those who would like to create their own Little Free Pantry is that, “it doesn’t have to be perfect. If it’s empty sometimes, it’s empty sometimes.” More likely than not, people will want to help. To learn more about how to create your own Little Free Pantry, visit littlefreepantry.org.

“I like the mindset that there are truly no strings attached. I’m not worried about people taking things they don’t need,” said Tilley. “Lots of social programs require proof of need, but the pantries don’t require that. We really can’t police charity or kindness and it’s been cool to teach my kids that.”

Tilley is an SUU senior majoring in family life and human development (FLHD). Born, raised, and currently living in Lexington, Kentucky, Tilley is an online T-Bird. She is a branch ambassador for Hike It Baby, a community of parents dedicated to getting their families outside. She visited southern Utah to hike Zion with the group a few years ago. Then, during the beginning of the pandemic, Tilley was wanting to go back to school for an FLHD degree. It may have been a coincidence that she had previously visited the area, but it was not a coincidence that she chose SUU for her online degree.

“I am a mom of two and life gets busy,” Tilley said. “I love SUU’s program, and I love the professors. I feel the personal connection even so far away and have never felt so connected anywhere else. The flexibility of the program is also really helpful. As the needs of my kids change, I can adapt my school schedule.”

Tilley is set to graduate in May of 2022 with her bachelor’s degree in family life and human development. She is currently an intern with Red Oaks Forest School, and she would like to continue her work with forest schools after graduation as a certified nature-based early childhood educator. Forest schools focus on play-based learning and student autonomy in outdoor spaces.

SUU’s Family Life and Human Development program focuses on strengthening families by integrating curriculum based on the healthy development of individuals and families throughout the lifespan. Learn more about the College of Education and Human Development.

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