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Tomas Gonzalez

New kind of give and take

Profile image for By Matt Payne
By Matt Payne
Pat Smith, executive director of Serve Denton, installs a Little Free Pantry on Saturday outside Big Fatty’s on Parkway Street.Tomas Gonzalez
Pat Smith, executive director of Serve Denton, installs a Little Free Pantry on Saturday outside Big Fatty’s on Parkway Street.
Tomas Gonzalez

Little Free Pantries set up to offer necessities, no questions asked

Pat Smith didn’t learn that his father, Jim, often fed homeless men and women behind his old diner until after he passed.

In exchange for two to three hours of work monitoring the parking lot behind Jim’s Diner, formerly at 110 Fry St., Jim offered 2,000-calorie breakfast plates for their time. It was just enough food for most to make it through the day.

He couldn’t help with their living situations, nor if they were in debt. But what he could help with was something simple that those in need needed the most.

Smith, the executive director of Serve Denton, hopes to reawaken that simple philanthropy with the new Little Free Pantries that are planted into the ground at designated spots around the city.

Each unit sits on top of wooden posts or inside larger containers and offer nonperishables for anybody who needs them. Together with the Argyle Young Men’s Service League, Smith broke ground with a shovel and built up three of the first 15 on Saturday.

The pantries are meant to destroy the stigma behind a colossal need in Denton, those at Serve Denton believe.

“No one used to think twice about asking your neighbor for a cup of sugar,” Smith said. “We want to provide a mechanism for neighbors to help neighbors in need when they end up having more month than money.”

Little Free Pantries originated as a grass-roots project in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but the idea since has made its way into cities like Ardmore, Oklahoma, and McKinney. Denton joins the ranks after local activist Amber Briggle pushed via social media for the city to adopt the pantries, and Serve Denton showed interest.

An estimated 115,480 people in Denton County struggle with food insecurity, Serve Denton states on its website. Smith recognized five burdens that mostly anybody must carry: rent, gas, utilities, debt and food.

The non-negotiable factor is food. Smith said ending hunger is his priority.

“Food is the only thing that isn’t discretionary,” Smith said. “Hunger affects all your faculties. You can’t perform your best in school or think straight. If you’re in debt, the debt collector comes, and if you can’t pay rent, then you get booted out. But to go without food is far more fatal.”

Those who make just a scant amount of income above the cap for food stamps are one group Smith hopes will take advantage of the Little Free Pantries. College students who spend thousands a month on apartment rent and other expenditures also were in mind when Serve Denton underwent preparation for Little Free Pantries.

The College of Public Affairs at the University of North Texas also wants to aid in this grass-roots effort. By February, with the volunteer efforts of students and faculty within the college, the number of Little Free Pantries ideally will rise to 25.

Donations from the 160 members in Argyle Young Men’s Service League funded the pantries’ first supply of non-perishables after the group joined Serve Denton this summer to plan.

Each year, the service league coordinates what they call an “Ultimate Gift” for their surrounding community, and last year, the service league worked with Serve Denton in the Wheeler House project.

“This year, we wanted to do something especially big, and we recognize the especially big homelessness problem in Denton,” said Brenna Sarrott, this year’s Ultimate Gift coordinator for the Argyle Young Men’s Service League.

Sponsors of the first 15 pantry locations had to commit to general maintenance of their pantries, as well as helping stock it on a regular basis. Jack Thompson, a former president of the Denton Rotary Club, volunteered to have one planted on his curb at 1401 Amherst Drive after one Rotary meeting.

Thompson hopes his community around him supports the effort to make food just a little more accessible — and that they find the same spirit that motivated him to let a homeless man sleep inside his home for one night two winters ago.

On whether he and Serve Denton believe the pantries will be properly used and not defaced, Thompson said their desire is people realize how severely hunger can hurt a community, and that those who have the means to give do so.

“I assume people will want to help the pantries, since there are plenty with lots of food and security in my area,” Thompson said. “Any little bit helps.”

MATT PAYNE can be reached at 940-566-6845 and via Twitter at @MattePaper.



For Little Free Pantries locations in Denton, for more information or to apply to sponsor a site, visit or email

Anyone in need can visit a Little Free Pantry location and take food or personal items. Anyone who is able to give can leave shelf-stable items to help keep the pantry stocked.




Peanut butter

Canned veggies (pop-top only)

Granola bars

Dry pasta

Coffee and tea



Personal needs




Feminine hygiene products

Toilet paper

Bars of soap

Baby items



Diaper cream

Household items

Dish soap

Hand soap

School supplies



Coloring books


Index cards





Used or open goods

Expired food

Rusty canned foods

Canned meat

Canned veggies without pop top

Food that has been prepared at home

Food out of original packaging or without labels

Items stored in glass

Harsh chemicals (e.g. bleach, household cleaning supplies)