Out-of-the-box kindness: Give Box CLE brings the Little Free Pantry idea to Cleveland

Just a few months ago, Give Box CLE was an idea. Now, six of the Little Free Library-style boxes are painted and ready to be installed throughout Cleveland’s East Side neighborhoods—but instead of books, they offer non-perishable goods, personal care items, toiletries, and other daily necessities.

Inspired by the “Little Free Pantry” movement that originated in Arkansas, Allison Lukacsy-Love says she founded Give Box CLE to help fill gaps in service for local food pantries, as well as aid those who either don’t quite qualify for assistance or struggle to access resources due to transportation or time constraints.

“As a volunteer for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, I am aware of the food insecurity in our community,” says Lukacsy-Love. “I came across the Little Free Pantry concept while searching for ways to make a difference."

Lukacsy-Love’s idea first took flight at this year’s Accelerate competition, at which she was a semi-finalist, and will become reality this summer. On Saturday, July 7, community members of all ages visited Waterloo Arts to help paint the boxes and drop off donations ranging from Chapstick to canned goods to feminine hygiene products.

Encouraging personal notes round out the included items. “Adding handwritten notes of positivity to the non-perishables and toiletries is my Cleveland-spin on the concept,” explains Lukacsy-Love. “While some of our neighbors may need toothpaste, a can of beans, or feminine products to turn their day from bad to good, I believe that kindness and gratitude is contagious and can be just as essential to our well-being.”

Lukacsy-Love is no stranger to these types of projects. She previously launched “The Lakefront Literacy Project,” a mobile free library at Euclid Beach Park from 2014 to 2017. “Research shows literacy rates go down while school is out,” says Lukacsy-Love, who was inspired to start the project after learning about the issue. “People were totally amazed they could come take a book. It was my gateway into understanding the generosity and appreciativeness of my neighbors.”

So when Lukacsy-Love, who sits on the Greater Cleveland Food Bank’s Young Professional Core Council, heard about a woman in Arkansas, who took the free library model and used it into a mini personal care and food pantry. Immediately, she was on board.

"A woman in Arkansas identified a need in her community and her own power to leverage resources to make a dent in hunger," she explains. "I knew the simple concept of giving what you can and taking what you need could work to build a strong yet invisible network of caring neighbors.”

To make it happen, Lukacsy-Love turned to The Kids of 216—a nonprofit for at-risk high school students—to design, build, and install the boxes. Kids is one of many organizations that partners with Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU), a workforce development program.

Still unsure where the boxes will be located, Lukacsy-Love is currently recruiting “stewards,” who are stepping up to make sure the boxes run smoothly and stay stocked. She’s also reaching out to faith-based neighborhood food pantries, churches, and police stations to get all six boxes up and running by the end of the summer.

The concept is all about neighbors helping neighbors, and she hopes the bright, cheerful boxes will not only help people get by, but also spread the message that this is a community of neighbors that cares about everyone.

“It’s always open and there’s no stigma,” said Lukacsy-Love. “[Someone] could be donating something or taking something; nobody knows.”

For more information on becoming a steward, or to make arrangements for donations, head to https://www.facebook.com/giveboxcle. There will also be another donation event at the Collinwood Community Potluck at Euclid Beach Park on Sunday, August 5, from 4 to 7 p.m.