The COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise in food insecurity and household need. To combat it, communities have begun to produce community food boxes where businesses and local households can donate excess food in order to help those in need and reduce food waste.
Some free food stands are permanent structures maintained by volunteers, but some are as simple as stocked boxes on a front lawn. The organization Food Not Lawns has spearheaded efforts to create community food structures, including tutorials for box and stand creation on their website as well as educational materials on permaculture practices and neighborhood foraging:
“Using friendship-based community organizing and principles of permaculture, gift economy, and mutual aid, Food Not Lawns has been turning yards into gardens and neighborhoods into communities since 1999, when we were conceived by the Food Not Bombs family in Eugene, Oregon. For more than twenty years small, self-organized groups of grassroots gardeners have been organizing local seed swaps, joining together for garden work parties, and making lots of friends while learning more about the simple act of growing food can radically improve your home, your community, and your life.”
In the Lansing area, several free food stands have been erected around different neighborhoods of the capital. These stands are maintained by local volunteers and advertised via a Facebook Group. This group also advertises skillshares and community aid aimed at assisting low-income or disabled community members. The stands aren’t just about food, many of them accept gently used clothes and children’s items to aid families.
Free stands are important to communities because they fulfill a variety of needs without any qualification for the needs. The idea of ‘take what you need, give back when you’re able’ creates a generous environment. Many people who take food often return to donate when they have excess, or volunteer their time instead.
If you have a lawn and a desire to give back to the community, consider hosting a free box for your community. According to Food Not Lawns, “A free box can be a cardboard box in front of the house, put out for a few days until the stuff is gone, or an established space in the community to which people take their surplus and look for what they need.” A tutorial on how to build a permanent structure can be found here.