Jason Cottrell and his daughter, Gracie Jo, 11, pose in front of the little free pantry their family created in front of their home, 1237 Marlene St. Holland. Courtesy
Jason Cottrell and his daughter, Gracie Jo, 11, pose in front of the little free pantry their family created in front of their home, 1237 Marlene St. Holland.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in early spring 2020, Jason Cottrell saw a world in need of a little kindness.
He saw the staggering numbers of people losing their jobs and struggling to put food on the table and used his skills as a woodworker to build a little free pantry. There, anyone at any time could find nonperishable food to feed their families or household products to help out at home.
“Everything just seemed to fall in place,” he says. “You’d be surprised at the outreach of the community. We stocked it the first couple of times and then the community sort of took care of it.”
Anyone, any time
The little pantry, which went up March 29, usually contains canned food, boxed cereals, personal hygiene products, laundry soap — anything nonperishable that might help someone in need.
It’s there 24-7, because as Cottrell says, “not only first-shift people get hungry.”
Some people are embarrassed. They don’t want to ask for help. The pantry is a no-questions-asked enterprise, he says, and the family doesn’t approach anyone partaking in the pantry’s goods.
Cottrell, who is a journeyman tool-and-die maker by trade, runs a small woodshop business out of his home. He used materials he had on hand to build the little pantry and later to expand it.
He receives a lot of inquiries from others wanting to know how they, too, can help.
People began asking for the plans he used, so they could build a little pantry of their own. Being a woodworker, Cottrell had put together the simple box without formal plans. He had to draw up plans, so others could follow his example. In fact, the Cottrells' little pantry is now one of several now in the area.
The family recently expanded the little box to accommodate more food and essentials.
“My parents always raised me that if I could help somebody, (I should) help them,” he says.
It’s a lesson that has infiltrated the next generation. The Cottrells have two teenage boys and one daughter.
His 11-year-old daughter, Gracie Jo, has taken over the management of the little pantry. It has become a life lesson for her, Cottrell says.
“That little girl’s got the biggest heart out of anybody I think I’ve ever known,” he says. “She’s amazing, to be honest with you.”
The little pantry resides at 1237 Marlene St. in the Central Park neighborhood in Holland.
“I think that’s what this world needs lately — kindness, thoughtfulness,” Cottrell says. “You see all the negativity all the time, from politics to racism … everybody wants to pick on somebody. If they would put as much effort into helping that person instead of kicking them while they are down, I just think the world would be a lot better off.”