DeFOREST — On a brisk Sunday afternoon, members of Girl Scouts Troop 2383 eagerly stocked applesauce and peanut butter onto shelves.

The scouts were seeing the completion of their Little Free Pantry project. The wooden, covered box will provide a place for community members in need to pick up nonperishable food and other basic necessities free of charge 24 hours a day. It operates under the credo of “Take what you need. Leave what you can.”

“We just thought it would be a great addition to our community,” said troop leader Jenny Casper.

The project was funded largely by the seven-member troop selling Girl Scouts cookies, she said.

Casper’s husband, Mike, built the pantry and installed it outside of Christ Lutheran Church, 220 S. Main St., in about one hour. Once erected, the girls swiftly moved in to stock the shelves with goods picked up from the nearby Pick ‘n Save grocery store.

The 4-cubic-foot box — 2 feet long by 2 feet tall by 1 foot deep — was stuffed with pasta sauce, noodles, soap, toothpaste and other items.

The plan is to have one scout assigned to the box per month, Jenny Casper said. They’ll check on it weekly to see if the pantry needs refilling or if any of the items have expired, she said.

Eventually, Jenny Casper hopes other youth groups and community members will contribute to keeping the shelves full.

The troop presented the plan to the church earlier this year and asked whether the pantry could be placed on its property, said Mary Lyons, a seventh-grader at St. Ambrose Academy.

“We gave them the whole spiel about why this is good and why it should be here,” Lyons said.

The girls, who are from the villages of DeForest and Windsor, helped sand and paint the box, which has a brown exterior and a black roof.

Lyons said it turned out beautiful, although she initially suggested a purple roof to match the Norskies’ mascot color.

The first Little Free Pantry box was installed in Arkansas in May 2016. Jenny Casper said she heard of the idea in September 2016 through Facebook and brought it to the troop as a service learning project.

The pantry will complement the church’s Norski Nibbles program, which provides lunches in the summer to children who are eligible for free or reduced lunches at school, she said.

Mike Casper looked at some designs of other pantries and came up with a hybrid design that has four shelving areas of varying heights.

The pantry concept is similar to the Little Free Library idea, which provides access to free books that are replenished or returned by community members.


Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the school that Mary Lyons attends.

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Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.