Jennifer Parker’s Overland Park neighbors have been hard at work this holiday season keeping her Tiny Pantry stocked up for local families struggling to keep food on the table.
Located in front of Parker’s home near the busy intersection of 71st Street and Metcalf Avenue, the Tiny Pantry first started as a project in September 2020 as a way to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within two months, the Tiny Pantry Times, as she calls it, became self-sustaining. Since its inception more than a year ago, Parker’s front yard operation has grown to serve 60 families and 150 individuals living across the Kansas City metro, she says.
In turn, nearly 400 “members” in her Nextdoor group, as she calls them, support the pantry and are helping her build connections and share provisions with other local charities and support groups in the area.
Her husband Adam outfitted the Tiny Pantry with separate sections for dry goods and another for toiletries, along with a area in the middle of the structure that accommodates a mini-fridge to stock cold items.
The pantry also offers printed resources about local organizations in case anyone picking up goods needs an extra boost or guidance for assistance. The pantry is also located right next to the Parkers’ newly Little Free Library, another pandemic project for the couple.
‘I know what it’s like to struggle’
“Want to see the pantry for the pantry?” Parker asked.
That’s her typical invitation to donors interested in supporting the pantry as a way for her to demonstrate that all donations are kept separate from her personal kitchen.
An entire room in the Parkers’ home is stocked from floor to ceiling with canned goods, personal hygiene items, over-the-counter medications and even a chest freezer with frozen dinners and meat.
The Tiny Pantry in their front yard has grown so popular, the Parkers say they have to now refill the pantry inside their home four or five times a day.
Above all else, Parker maintains a strict code of anonymity for anyone picking up food and items at the Tiny Pantry.
She recalls a time when she struggled as a young single mother living in public housing. Even though she had a master’s degree, she couldn’t find a job at the time.
“We were kind of living hand-to-mouth there for a while,” Parker said. “I know what it’s like to struggle, trying to fulfill the needs of a family.
“We don’t ask for identification. We feel like their anonymity is their security.”
Support from neighbors, businesses
The Parkers’ neighbors have organized several Thanksgiving dinners for local families and offered to let recipients use their driveways when they visit the Tiny Pantry.
The holiday season is here, and the couple’s living room is already filling up with gifts, treats and festivities for nine families to enjoy this Christmas.
The Tiny Pantry Times — now officially a 501(c)3 nonprofit — manages to raise funds to help one recipient pay off a $5,000 loan.
One family received a brand new stove so they could cook food from the Tiny Pantry. And local businesses have donated goods and appliances to help support the pantry.
“They (her members) said, ‘During the pandemic, we have all felt so isolated; this has brought us together as a community with a common goal, and you have created this community, not only for the recipients but also for the donors,’” Parker said. “It’s given us purpose. It’s given them all something to do, and they all feel really good about it. It has really brought us all together.”
How you can help
Parker’s current wishlist for her Tiny Pantry is for new socks, as well as gently used warm outerwear, including hats, scarves and gloves.
Anyone interested in getting involved in the Tiny Pantry can reach Jennifer Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you leave near 71st and Metcalf, you may also be able to reach out to Parker and Tiny Pantry Times on the Nextdoor app.