By Nona Tepper
"My brother calls it thievery, but I call it collecting," said Nathan Edsell, 12, marveling at a seashell he found hidden 32 inches below ground, which represented just one item he unearthed during a recent dig at the Forest Park Public Library.
"Maybe it's some old fragments of past civilizations," said Tom Kunkel, owner of Urban Pioneer Group, 7503 Madison St., sweat dripping from his face as he dug into the ground and facilitated the installation of a new "Little Free Food Pantry" outside 7555 Jackson Blvd. on April 7.
A play on the "Little Free Library" concept — "We're already a library," joked Director Pilar Shaker — the new pantry holds personal care items and canned goods, is intended for anyone in need, and was installed just in time for National Library Week, April 8-14. The new cabinet complements the larger food pantry at the Howard Mohr Community Center across the street, and is intended for those who lack proper documentation for the Community Center's pantry, feel embarrassed asking for help, come by during off-hours, or all of the above.
"We're seeing an increasing number of people asking to be connected to resources to meet their immediate needs — shelter, food, etc." Shaker said.
Kunkel built the Little Free Food Pantry free of charge, librarians bought the stocked canned goods and personal care items and Boy Scouts from Forest Park, Maywood and Brookfield earned service hours for installing the new cabinet.
"I can envision other food pantries going up around town," said Kunkel, who offers service hours and merit badges to local Boy Scouts for learning traditions like salami curing, meat smoking, CNC laser engraving and more.
"You've got various societal problems, homelessness or whoever, and through exposing kids to history and generational rituals, we provide a short-term bridge gap" for the hungry, Kunkel said.
It took an hour to dig 32 inches into the ground for the post, uncovering such treasures as shells, dimes and clay in the process. Scouts planted the pole, sanded the pantry's foundation, and drilled the cabinet into place. Librarians will check and restock the cabinet once a day to make sure items posted are appropriate, and they plan to dip into their own pockets if products run low. Interested donors can also drop off donations at the library's front desk.
Nathan Edsell, of Brookfield, said his favorite part of the process was digging the hole and finding the shell. "No comment," replied his twin brother Ben about his brother's Altoid tin, spring and shell collection of found items. The boys were happy to earn the service hours and help those in need.
What did they learn from the experience?
"That I should do these things more," Nathan Edsell said, adding, "I like digging holes and hitting things, so this was really fun."