<--the original "Little Pantry" that started out by the street
In Sept of 2016, Radonna Nelson started out placing a small enclosed cabinet that she bought for $10 from Value Village out in front of her house (10745 126th Ave NE) with some extra pantry items inside of it. The concept is similar to that of the "free little library" that is based on the honor system- take what you need, and if you can, put in something to share with others. She started a Facebook Page called “The Free Little Pantry in Rose Hill” whose membership quickly exploded to what is now over 500 members. Radonna bought another cabinet and friends started bringing over refrigerators to store lunch meat, milk, cheese, eggs, butter. Her pantry was quickly expanding to include fruits/veggies, socks/gloves, toiletries and freezers full of meat. She goes grocery shopping every Mon/Weds/Fri and knows every sale in town. The pantry was no longer just a box by the street, it has graduated to an enclosed space built onto the front to her family's home.
<---Radonna exclaims “This big fridge is my baby!”
Needless to say, feeding the hungry of Kirkland and beyond has turned into a full-time job for Radonna, but she is willing to let her “Little Pantry” go wherever it takes her. She knows this was meant to be. Formerly a woman that would sleep all day and hadn't any friends, she feels like her passion for helping others has given her a newfound purpose. She grew up in a family of six where she was often hungry and endured an abusive home, so it has great meaning to give people an outlet that she didn’t have. Radonna’s only requirement to use her pantry is that you are hungry (it’s not a grocery store) and you sign a waiver form. She wants those in need to take food with an open heart and without shame. There is no cap on the number of visits and she doesn’t turn anyone away. The Free Little Pantry of Rose Hill is open 24/7/365. Yes, you read that correctly. Anytime. She says, “At the end of the month, when I look at how much food has gone out, it’s clear I’m making a difference. When you fill people’s bellies, they are receptive to talk and I want them to know I’ve been there and I understand.” Radonna remembers, “my husband sold plasma to pay for milk when our kids were young.... and we survived! I want people to know that someone believes in them.” She even sometimes assists in finding shelters and jobs. Radonna will occasionally do special orders- making sure she purchases soap or detergent next time at the store if she knows someone needs it.
Radonna is not only a student at Cascadia College with a goal of being a therapist, she has been learning a lot as her pantry grows. She’s got her food handler’s permit and is waiting for her 501 (c)3 designation so donations will be tax-deductible soon. Her vision is to eventually start a garden so her clients can understand how food grows and where it comes from. Another perk of her mentoring role is changing how people eat. “Someone told me their kids will eat apples now since they have tried them here. And that means a lot,” Radonna beams.
Now you are likely realizing what an incredibly amazing and generous woman Radonna is to be giving her own money, time, energy, home and heart to the hungry people of our community. “How can I help?” was top of mind for me. There are a couple ways:
1-The pantry needs a 3 drawer fridge for produce (do you have one of these hanging around?)
2-Donations- Things such as frozen fruits/veggies, canned food, pastas, cheese, etc. She also offers books for children and coats. Toiletries and cleaning supplies are also helpful. Reusable bags are great for people to take their items in. Or if you prefer, you can also donate funds via Paypal.
Special thanks to Radonna for being yet another fiber in the fabric that makes Kirkland so darn special.