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Free food pantry provides to those in need in Fairbanks

April 14, 2018

In this April 3, 2018 photo, Hutchison High School student body president Michelle Kougl poses next to the Little Free Pantry outside the Fairbanks Native Association Community Services building in Fairbanks, Alaska. Little Free Pantry is a nationwide movement based on the Little Free Library kiosks. But instead of books, Little Free Pantry is a place where people in need can find basic staples, and people with extra can share. (Eric Engman/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner via AP)

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — It takes a discerning eye to notice the miniature A-frame structure, painted turquoise blue and mounted on four posts. A sign on top of the box reads “take what you need, leave what you can.”

Open the door, and you might find canned food, flour, oatmeal, soap, tampons, toothbrushes or any number of food and personal hygiene products.

Fairbanks’ first Little Free Pantry may blend in with the giant whale mural adorning the side of Fairbanks Native Association’s Community Services office, but the little box has a big impact.

Little Free Pantry is a nationwide movement based on the Little Free Library kiosks. But instead of books, Little Free Pantry is a place where people in need can find basic staples, and people with extra can share.

“The purpose of the food pantry is to provide support to those in need. We want it to sit outside, accessible 24/7 so everyone can get it, even if it’s just a mother struggling before payday,” Michelle Kougl said while acknowledging winter weather can pose problems.

She has been in touch with the Department of Environmental Conservation and has no reason to believe the pantry is in violation of anything.

Kougl, president of the Hutchinson High School Student Council, spearheaded the Little Free Pantry program, and checks on the stocks daily.

She decided to set up the pantry after Hutchison’s 2017 canned food drive fell drastically short of expectations. Kougl wanted to give the small donation a big impact, more than just dropping it off at the food bank.

“I did not want to drop that off at the food bank,” she said while remarking on the small donation.

Kougl was familiar with Little Free Pantries through her aunt in Arkansas and decided to give it a go.

“I always wanted to do it,” she said. “I just never had the reason.”

Kougl recruited Hutchison’s construction class to build the first pantry, then worked with Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly and FNA to set up the distribution box.

“They have basic hygiene products, too, like tampons, toothbrushes, hats or gloves.” Kougl said.

Kougl then started a Facebook page called Fairbanks Little Free Pantries where she increases community awareness and posts updates on stock shortages. Staff from FNA keep an eye on pantry shortages, as well. Kougl said said the pantry needs complete restocking about every three days.

“I haven’t noticed too many people taking bunches, just what they need,” she added.

She said it’s an ideal spot because people are often at the Community Service office for other resources, to which the pantry is a perfect complement.

“A lot of the homeless population goes there. It was an ideal place to start it,” said Steve Ginnis, FNA executive director.

Ginnis expressed joy and gratitude toward Kougl for taking on the project.

“We’re really pleased that these high school students see the need in the community and are willing to step up. We’re pleased to be part of it,” he said.

Kougl’s father, Pat Kougl, has the same view.

“I just like it. I think it’s cool. It makes me feel good she wants to reach out and help somebody,” he said.

Michelle Kougl said she became interested in charitable work after a 2015 trip to the Philippines to visit her grandmother. She saw people in tattered clothes and without enough to eat.

Having raised enough money to build four additional pantries — which she plans to build with her father for about $70 each — Kougl secured a second spot near The Door, a youth shelter on 10th Avenue. She’s not sure when it will be installed. A Pantry in North Pole is also in the works.

Kougl shows signs of spending a lot of her life helping others. After graduating from Hutchinson this year as a junior, she plans to major in psychology for pre-medicine.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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