Random Acts supporter A.J. Rourk is not a stranger to hunger. He grew up in a single-parent household where they often had to choose between going without electricity or food. His family turned to their local church, which provided them with bags of food, so they no longer had to make that difficult decision. Now that A.J. is older, he found a way to pay that kindness forward with Tiny Purple Pantry.

An increase in unemployed, hungry, and homeless populations because of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to longer lines at food pantries. Because of this, purple wooden boxes labeled “give what you can, take what you need” have popped up throughout the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.

Tiny Purple Pantry was founded by Lindsay Manolakos, a geometry teacher in Brooklyn, who noticed longer wait times at her neighborhood food pantry. Thinking of how much food her own family wastes while so many struggle for just one meal, she set to work. Inspired by “little libraries” where people anonymously exchange books, the idea for purple food pantries was born.

purple food pantry

A.J. food shopping for the purple pantry

A.J. has been most involved with the Purple Pantry outside Bushwick Abbey, a church in Brooklyn. A community resource for many hungry families, A.J. knew the importance of providing a variety of food options for people of all ages and dietary needs.

The Gratitude of Giving

With the help of Random Acts funding, he set out to his local supermarket and purchased enough food to keep the pantry stocked for several weeks. A.J. worked with one of the church’s leaders to store the food and restock the pantry as needed.

Based on his own experiences, A.J. stressed the importance of keeping the pantry well-stocked.

“While shopping, I felt so uplifted because I remembered how much of a blessing my church was to my family growing up,” A.J. said. “So I know that we will be able to make such a difference in people’s lives with a stocked pantry.”

The primary goal for the pantries is to provide an anonymous source for neighbors to give and take food.

“Because we want folks to feel totally welcomed to pick up food from the pantry, we don’t really question anyone,” A.J. said. “But I can tell you that there are families out there that really depend on the Purple Pantry.”

A.J. has been given the opportunity to help others in a similar way that others once helped him. This has made him feel “great gratitude” and has left him with a “very full” heart.

Committed to Community

Since its inception, the Tiny Purple Pantry project has been focused on community, something the pandemic has all but taken away. Community outreach events and pantry painting parties are just the start of what this project has to offer beyond food donations.

Lindsay, the project’s founder, picked up woodworking as a hobby, learning to use power tools despite the masculinity often attributed to them. She hopes to inspire women to explore their own passions, particularly those that do not fit traditional gender roles.

Current pantries can be found at New York City churches, schools, yoga studios, and even outside kind people’s homes. And future expansion plans are in the works. Some ways you can get involved with the project are to donate food, donate funds, or host your own pantry.

Do you have an idea for a project that can help people in your community? Random Acts offers funding for acts of kindness all over the world! Submit a proposal here.