OVERLAND PARK, Ks. – Adam and Jennifer Parker launched an initiative in 2020 to aid locals in acquiring hygiene products and fighting off hunger amid the COVID pandemic. But with tremendous growth and continued need, they have no plans to slow it down.
A Tiny Library project that Jennifer and her grandson initiated in April 2020 transformed into Tiny Pantry Times. After hearing many stories of job loss and financial hardship in their community, Parker and her husband decided to make the change to support their neighbors with life essentials.
Adam’s involvement in the Nextdoor neighbors website eventually led to Tiny Pantry Times becoming a self-sustaining nonprofit organization in just two months.
Tiny Pantry Times collaborates closely with Food Donation Connection, a program that helps food service companies avoid wasting surplus food. Thanks to the partnership, 3,000 recipients in the Kansas City area receive quality food items every month.
“That food that is still good, but would otherwise end up as waste,” Jennifer said. “Currently we have five volunteers that work in conjunction with my husband to recover food from three different Starbucks, two different grocery stores for milk, Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, Texas Roadhouse and McDonalds. We get calls from FDC that say, ‘Hey, we have a business that has some excess food, could you use it for your recipients?’ We gather the food, weigh it in and send the records to (the) FDC.”
The Parker home is the base of operations for Tiny Pantry Times, utilizing a 49 cubic foot building with a mini fridge. Additional storage is provided at an Overland Park Christian Church after a deal between the Parkers and the church. The pastor only asks for a donation of bread and milk to support their own pantry.
Tiny Pantry Time will start curbside operations at the church once they fulfill specific requirements set by the city of Overland Park; the church currently lacks a heated or lit ramp and ADA-compliant hand railing for senior volunteers of Tiny Pantry Times or recipients.
Multiple contractors have been approached for the safety enhancements, yet the bids require over $110,000 to proceed. The Parkers are requesting either monetary donations or licensed and bonded contractors to generously donate their time.
“We feel it could probably be done for considerably less. We are willing to put in some sweat equity. None of us have deep enough pockets to cover something like that, so if anyone could donate materials, time or talent to get this project done, then we would deeply appreciate it. We want to keep our volunteers safe.”
The pantry has sought grants, but many require food recipients to complete demographic paperwork.
“We have worked really hard to protect the anonymity of our recipients. We don’t ask for any demographic information, which has kind of shot us in the foot because a lot of government grants require that information and we just won’t collect it. We’ve had people come into our pantry crying because they are embarrassed to come to a pantry because there is a stigma associated with having to utilize a pantry. We are dedicated to protecting them from having to deal with that.”
Pantry visitors include individuals who are not homeless but work multiple jobs to make ends meet, forcing them to prioritize between rent, medicine, food and utility bills. Jennifer says Tiny Pantry Times strives to remove the “either or” from the equation.
Donations to Tiny Pantry Times are tax deductible. Anyone interested in donating food, hygiene products or contracting work can visit the group’s website or visit in-person at 7215 West 71st Street in Overland Park.