Small purple boxes have been popping up across Brooklyn this summer. “Give What You Can, Take What You Need” inscribed on the side, they can be found in rich neighborhoods and those not so well-heeled.
These boxes are filled with donated food and are called Tiny Purple Pantries and were created and made by Lindsay Manolakos, who came up with the idea to create her pantries after she saw the long lines at food banks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic stretching down multiple blocks and across streets.
Influenced by the Little Libraries, wooden boxes where people can drop off used books for others to enjoy, Manolakos felt she could create similar boxes with food access, which many people lack right now. The pantries serve as a contact-free way for people to drop off and pick up donated food rather than waiting in line at a food pantry.
“I thought, instead of books, why can’t we put some food in those?” said Manolakos.
The first Tiny Purple Pantry – a 1.5 wide, two-foot-tall box was built in the basement of the Ditmas Park house where her landlord keeps his woodshop. She then filled the box up with food and placed it outside of their home. These days it takes Manolakos between four and six hours to make one pantry, then another hour or two to install it, with some help from her two children.
“We have a lot,” Manolakos, a teacher who works in East New York and lives in Ditmas Park, said. She and her husband have kept their jobs throughout the pandemic but know many are “struggling to just get anything together to put on the table,” Manolakos said.
“I figured if we can share a little bit of what we have and everyone could share a little bit of what they have. It won’t address the problem at its core, but it might make a difference for one family one day or two days or a week.”
One pantry soon turned into five, and then into ten, as word spread across Ditmas Park, and these days you can find them in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Kensington, Windsor Terrace, and as far as Bushwick.
“We’ve definitely seen that it really sustains itself,” said Reverend Sarah Koopercamp of the Holy Apostles Episcopal Church of Brooklyn, located in Windsor Terrace, which has had a Tiny Purple Pantry since the summer. “It’s both a really nice thing for neighborhood folks who have an abundance at this time to have an outlet to share very directly with their neighbors who don’t right now,” said Reverend Koopercamp.
“It’s like a little ritual [people] do with their families. Some people have been making full home-cooked meals,” Manolakos said.
Reverend Kimberlee Auletta, the other reverend of the Holy Apostles Episcopal Church that Manolakos is a parishioner at, said her daughter and her friend took the initiative of going around to their neighbors’ houses to collect food.
“They wrote up flyers, distributed them to all the neighbors. They ended up getting three carloads of food that they have continuously distributed to the pantries,” said Reverend Auletta. “It’s been a way for our neighbors to give things.”
A lot of people don’t just give things like canned tuna, said Reverend Auletta. “They had done things like Oreos. It was really fun. Everyone enjoys all that stuff. We sort of get very righteous about ‘well, let’s give the most nutritious things, instead of the joy of what it is like to get a candy bar.”
“We’ve been raising money to help to build some additional boxes,” said Reverend Auletta.
One pantry sits outside of the home of Anna Beth Rousakis, who just recently installed her pantry in Midwood.
“Almost immediately, people in the neighborhood started adding food,” said Rousakis.
“It’s really had a lot of turnover. Almost every day, it empties out, and then it’s incredible to me how many of our neighbors have visited it and commented on it.”
As the project began to grow, it began to get expensive. The pantries cost about 80$ to make, and Manolakos set up a GoFundMe page on Nov 10.
In the first 36 hours, she raised $500 – more than enough to make five more pantries.
“That motivated me to make another batch,” said Manolakos.
Since she had raised enough money to fund the five pantries she intended to make, she has decided to make more.
Throughout making her pantries, Manolakos has been heartened by how her project has become a community effort.
“This is a way for people to connect with the people right around them and feel that sense of giving a need very much directly. Putting the care of neighbors back into the hands of the community.”