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A little free pantry and a lesson in helping others
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A little free pantry and a lesson in helping others

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Pantry, 8.21

Scouts Amy Hernandez, Ashley Martinez and Vanessa Sauceda look on as Jim Falk and Michael Reinmiller install the pantry at the Proyecto Cultural Center at 2222 Y St. on Friday

Sometime this summer, between virtual Community Learning Center meetings and tending the garden her Girl Scout troop planted near 22nd and Y streets, Amy Hernandez got an idea.

The third grader's idea grew into a plan and on Friday afternoon, in the August heat with her mom and her friends and her scout leaders and the Community Learning Center folks and even the mayor milling about, it became a reality.

A new, whitewashed, glass-doored, secured-in-the ground, there-if-you-need-it reality.

Thanks to Amy and her mom, the fourth little free pantry, subsidized by a CLC mini-grant program, now sits on the west side of Proyecto Cultural, 2222 Y St.

Since 2009, the small orangish brick building at 22nd and Y streets has housed Proyecto Cultural, a center run by Executive Director Juan Rodriguez that offers space for Grupa Folkorico Sangre Azteca dancers to hold class, and for soccer players and Amy’s Girl Scout troop to meet.

Cecilia Hernandez, Amy’s mom, said the pandemic has made Girl Scout meetings tough, but the troop planted a garden behind the building and spent the summer tending the cucumbers and tomatillos, the Swiss chard and tomatoes and basil.

The pandemic also sent the summer CLC program at Randolph Elementary that Amy attends to the virtual world, and part of the program involved a suggestion that students come visit Civic Nebraska, which runs the school’s CLC, Hernandez said.

While they were there, Hernandez and her daughter learned about the mini-grant program — made possible with a $4,000 grant from the Safe and Successful to Kids interlocal agreement, which, among other things, supports the CLCs.

The $4,000 was used to create a mini-grant program, managed by Chelsea Egenberger, who runs the Lincoln High CLC, and Michael Bandy, the Northeast CLC director, offering up to $350 for anyone connected to a CLC who has an idea for a project to improve their neighborhoods.

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That got Amy and her mom thinking. They considered a little free library first, but Amy said she’d watched the kids bicycling around the 22nd and Y neighborhood while they tended the garden and it got her thinking. Maybe some of those kids or their families were hungry.

“They take care of the garden and see other kids and strike up conversations,” Cecilia Hernandez said.

You can go to the library to get books for free, Amy thought. Food’s different.

The Hernandez’s got connected to Mike Reinmiller, who’d watched a news story about little free pantries and asked his father-in-law to make him one, then heard about the mini-grants and applied, and has put in two more in other neighborhoods. Then his father-in-law built one for Amy and a fourth that they also planned to install Friday. The grant money also will help keep the pantries stocked.

Rodriguez, who runs Proyecto Cultural, was happy to have a mini food pantry near the center. He’s had people stop in before to ask if they had food there, and he thinks it will be put to good use.

Another reason Amy liked the idea of putting it at the center, and not in her own neighborhood, is the garden, her mom said. They hope to find a way to offer some of the produce, maybe hanging in a sling below the cupboard.

Cecilia Hernandez figures there’s a lesson in that little free pantry, one that stemmed from conversations from a Girl Scout garden in the middle of the city.

“This is how I see it,” she said. “They are learning to help others in the community.”

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Local government reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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