Birdie & the Pantry

Last week I wrote about the Free Little Libraries, but the little houses do not stop there.  Along with the little libraries, there has been a growing number of little pantries in Oshkosh.  I was fortunate enough to speak to two people who have their own pantries.

The first person I spoke to was Brian Ghisalberti. He named the box after his childhood nickname, Birdie. He is originally from Kansas City, but moved to Oshkosh for work.  When he came here, he noticed all the Free Little Libraries. Although he isn’t much of a reader, he wanted to do something similar to help out the community.  

He created “Birdie’s Blessing Box,” located on Irving Avenue.  The box has received food items, canned goods, toiletries, basic home necessities from the community.  This winter he also bought a TON of scarves and hung them all around Oshkosh as a way to help the homeless stay warm.  He recently put up another Blessing Box near Our Savior's Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is located behind McDonalds on Jackson Street. Sunday June 24th, there will be a dedication service at 9am at the church.

Along with Birdie’s Blessing Boxes, there are a number of “Free Little Pantries” around Oshkosh.  I spoke to Molly Smiltneek, who is a member of Peace Lutheran Church and helps out with the pantry located by.  I wanted to know what motivated her to start one and what the process was like.  Speaking with Molly was super insightful and eye opening.

She saw a post from the original “Free Little Pantries” on Facebook and thought, “Why not?!” The church had an extra structure from the “Free Little Library,” so she didn’t face the challenge of creating her own.  The pantry and church is located at in one of the poorer areas of Oshkosh. The location happens to be on a common route for the Day by Day Warming Shelter and is considered a “food desert” since there are not any grocery stores nearby.   One of the most influential factors to starting the pantry were the kids and those who face food insecurity.  

Peace Lutheran houses Peace Christian Preschool, which includes a private 3K preschool program as well as serving as a community partner site for two Oshkosh Area School District 4K classrooms.  The District has an Early Childhood Classroom in the building and UWO Head Start has 3 classrooms, so they have 200 kids in and out of the building every day with a variety of challenges facing them when they are not in school.  They are also three blocks from Jefferson Elementary, where they think approximately 75% of the students receive free or reduced lunch.  Knowing that fact, they figured they could make a small difference for those kids and have items available for their families to take anonymously.

They were correct about the families and kids in the area were in need.  There are kids who stop by the pantry every day and the church members can never keep the pantry stocked.  If they stock it in the morning, the food or personal items are gone within hours. “We do need better church and community support to keep it stocked but we know we only play a small part in addressing food insecurity in Oshkosh.” If you would like to help support the Peace Lutheran Church’s pantry, you can write a check or cash donations to Peace Lutheran Church and indicate it is for the Little Free Pantry in the note section.

It is easy to get caught up in our own lives.  Maybe we feel that we do not have time to volunteer or perhaps we do not have enough money to give substantial donations.  These pantries I believe are great opportunities for anyone to make a small impact on someone else’s life. Both Birdie’s Blessings Box and the Free Little Pantry at Peace Lutheran Church accept nonperishable food and toiletries.  If you have a chance on your next Target run, buy an extra toothbrush or a can of soup, then swing by and drop them off at one of the locations. I know someone will appreciate it, just check out the thank you notes below.


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