Boxes of food are left on the ground outside Little Free Pantry Findlay, causing potential issues with rodents, weather and contamination. Little free pantries operating throughout the county depend on the kindness of donors to leave what they can for those in need. Operators are thankful, but ask that donors make general food safety a priority. (Provided photo)

By BRENNA GRITEMAN

LIFE EDITOR

Little free food pantries operating throughout the county run on the simple philosophy of “take what you need, leave what you can.”

That means take the generously prepared and packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the boxes of mac and cheese and the cans of ravioli.

And it means leave what you think a hungry child might like, and what your financial means allows.

Do not, however, leave perishables that require refrigeration. Or foods under a safety recall, or that are obviously spoiled. In short, don’t leave anything you wouldn’t serve your own family.

And for the love of God, close and latch the door behind you.

“It is a heart mission, but sometimes it’s not easy,” admits Heather Hunt, who launched Little Free Pantry Findlay in November 2017 in the Cakes for Heaven’s Sake parking lot on North Main Street.

Hunt says the pantry is empty “constantly” in the summer months, when neighborhood kids are not receiving breakfast and lunch at nearby Glenwood Middle School. The pantry is also used regularly by international students at the University of Findlay, and by families — especially near the end of the month when rent is coming due.

And while she acknowledges the generosity of the community in near-daily Facebook photo updates — the most recent heralding the delivery of homemade salsa — Hunt implores donors to keep food safety in mind.

Recently, a donor left a box of food on the ground outside the pantry, even though there was plenty of room on the shelves. This could attract raccoons, bugs and other pests, and it would be completely ruined by a passing storm.

Last winter, someone left the pantry door open on a snowy night. Hunt had to install a new pantry bottom, as snow rotted out the wood inside.

And during last year’s national romaine lettuce recall, a donor dropped off several romaine chicken salads — a food safety double whammy.

Hunt likes to believe most people aren’t being malicious — they simply don’t realize the potential health hazards associated with their carelessness. Still, she has had to throw food away, and she’s seriously considered closing the pantry if food safety remains a concern.

In a last-ditch effort, she’s installed a larger “no dumping” sign outside the pantry. Hunt also reminds donors that if the pantry is full when they arrive, donations can be left inside Cakes for Heaven’s Sake during business hours. And people can simply message Little Free Pantry Findlay on Facebook, and she’ll arrange for pickup.

“We want to do our best to love our neighbors and help our neighbors and keep people safe,” she says. “I’m just kind of at my wits’ end.”

Kirsteen Seele, a 2014 McComb High School graduate, opened Little Free Pantry McComb in January. She’s had a handful of perishable and expired items donated, but says the pantry’s biggest issue is the door being left open.

Seele encourages the public to take the “it takes a village” stance in caring for the pantry: “We set it up, but it really takes a whole community to make it successful.”

She urges donors to sweep out crumbs and spills when they see them. And she’s grateful to the many people who stop and latch the pantry, just because they were driving past and noticed the door hanging open. The pantry is located in the parking lot at the village administration building on Main Street.

Seele graduated from Bowling Green State University last May with a degree in dietetics. Having studied food safety and availability issues, she notes that running a little free pantry requires a “balance” between its easy-to-give, easy-to-receive nature and its inherent food safety concerns.

She understands that most people don’t want to see food wasted, so they may donate expired items to the pantry, rather than simply throwing them away. Seele urges potential donors to take action before the food goes bad, and to give perishables to a shelter with refrigeration capabilities.

Hungry people “still deserve quality, safe food,” she says.

Both Hunt and Seele note that kid-friendly food items such as jars of peanut butter, ramen noodles, mac and cheese, cans of tuna fish and boxes of cereal tend to have the highest turnover. Personal care items like soap, toothbrushes and diapers are also welcome.

Griteman: 419-427-8477

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Twitter: @BrennaGriteman

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