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High school senior installs tiny food pantry across Moscow

Posted June 17

— Residents suffering from food insecurity now have another option when it comes to seeking help after Moscow High School senior Chandler Miller spent much of the past academic year working to create and place a tiny pantry stocked full of food and other necessities in Moscow.

The cheerily painted, glass-fronted wooden cabinet sitting near the entrance of Moscow's First United Methodist Church may be small, but, according to MHS teacher Sam Hoogsteen, it represents a lot of heart.

Miller, a student in Hoogsteen's leadership course at the high school, took on the project in early October when he learned of a similar pantry in Pullman.

Inspired by the idea of the tiny libraries that continue to pop up in various yards around town, the pantry, with two shelves and a clear glass front, invites those in need to take what they can and for those with the ability to give something back.

"The goal of the class is to create things, to make things better in the high school and in our community," Miller said.

In this case, the community improvement was easier said than done.

"I took it on and ever since then we've been collaborating with all sorts of people," Miller said, naming J.J's Building Supply and Palouse Cares, which donated the materials.

Miller said he worked with Rev. Debbie Sperry at the church to obtain a space for the pantry and with shop teachers and students within the Moscow School District in construction and decoration.

"It seems like a simple easy project but there's a lot of behind the scenes work to make this happen," Sperry said.

Sperry said she first learned about Miller's project from Hoogsteen last fall, and then she worked with the two — as well as members of the church's council — to examine the risks and benefits of housing the little pantry.

The risks, including questions of liability if perishable food were left in the little pantry, were addressed by Miller.

"He's done his homework," Sperry said of Miller.

The benefits of such a system are numerous, she said.

"We partner with a number of different groups around the city," she said. "There's a significant food need in the area and we know the resources are limited."

Sperry noted that of Idaho's 44 counties, Latah County is second worst in food insecurity.

Miller, who accepted his high school diploma in June at the University of Idaho's Kibbie Dome, said the way the pantry is set up — being self-service — will especially benefit those who are uncomfortable asking for help.

"When you're down on your luck it's really hard to ask for help. It's a great thing that it can be private, and it's 24-7,' he said. "For some reason if a single mom with four kids couldn't get to the food bank maybe she can grab some mac and cheese in the box. It's just to help people get through one more day, one day at a time."

Although Miller will be leaving Moscow later this summer to study business at Boise State University, he doesn't expect the little pantry project to decline. In fact, a second little pantry is being stored at the high school and "waiting for a new home," he said.

"We're hoping to make this not only just one pantry, but to have them all over town," Miller said. "The premise is the community donates and it's self-sustaining."

Miller said community members have already started donating to the pantry, and a joint effort by the Methodist Church in the summer and MHS during the academic year will make certain it's stocked.

Suggested community donations for the boxes include pop-top soups, toiletries and even books and toys for children.

Hoogsteen, who has worked alongside Miller to see the project come to fruition, said he's been impressed by Miller.

"He wouldn't let 'no' stop him," he said, mentioning the challenges Miller faced along the way. "It was a great learning experience for him and wonderful for our community."

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