In January, PDS fifth graders were asked to brainstorm answers to this question: “What do people need to survive?”
The list of responses from the boys was extensive and thoughtful. After a great deal of lively debate, each homeroom class independently came to the same conclusion: food.
In Shelby County, nearly a quarter of the population is food insecure. Being food insecure is defined as not always having access to food or having to skip meals because there isn’t enough of it. In 2010, the Food Research Action Committee ranked Memphis as having the highest rate of food insecurity in the country. Beyond the financial issues that lead to food insecurity is the concept of food deserts — areas where there are no large grocery stores providing access to fresh food. Memphis has been ranked as having one of the country’s worst urban food deserts.
Using the EDGE Design Thinking process, the boys interviewed local experts, including Sherry McClure, co-founder of Merge Memphis, a local non-profit dedicated to feeding hungry people in Memphis. Boys created presentations on hunger in Memphis and organizations that are working to help. One concept that the boys were intrigued by was the idea of creating little neighborhood food pantries or “blessing boxes,” a concept which began in northwest Arkansas in May of 2016 (littlefreepantry.org).
In September of 2016, Merge Memphis set up three little free pantries in Memphis. Each week, volunteers stock the pantries with non-perishable items. The boys designed and created blueprints for their boxes, and on April 28 teams of boys and parents joined forces to build 19 little free pantries. These pantries are being installed in food deserts in the Memphis area in collaboration with Merge Memphis.