WAXAHACHIE — It is often said that the little things make a big difference. The adage certainly rings true when it comes to "The Little Pantry," a mini cupboard charity packed with opportunity for neighbors to help neighbors. Providing a simple outlet stuffed with food, toiletries, and the kindnesses of others, The Little Pantry has become the new symbol of the community’s heart.
Located behind Taco Casa on West Fifth Street, Waxahachie residents, Sonny and Kay Sides, started the blessing box in January, creating a trend that makes giving back undemanding and an enjoyable experience.
“I think it’s a perfect time to do this because everything seems so negative in the world, and this was just doing a little thing. By putting it up, so many people are involved and excited about participating that it’s just so exciting to watch. So many people are blessed from giving and from taking,” explained Mrs. Sides about the ripple-like effect this pebble of an idea had from its quick beginning.
Echoing his wife's excitement, Sonny explained that when the couple first started "we knew people needed it, and we know people would enjoy getting it, but people have just as much enjoyed giving it. We posted it over one week ago. My daughter also shared it, and she has 300 shares. This one woman that lives close by got 1,000 shares – this is not likes, this is shares."
WHEN INSPIRATION HITS
After owning and operating Sonny Sides Plumbing for 20 years, the Sides later sold all of their belongings and set sail on an adventure of a lifetime.
“We sold everything we had, gave it to the kids, and took off. So we didn’t have anything except what was on the sailboat,” Mr. Sides explained.
“We did that, and then we went to the Caribbean for eight years,” Mrs. Sides added.
Little did the Sides know the retirement hiatus would later spark a new journey during their travels.
“It’s how this peaked our interest because when we were in Central and South America, you see a lot of people hungry and needy and it’s neat to watch them because they take care of each other,” she recalled. “If one little child gets a candy bar, he doesn’t run and eat it by himself — he shares it with everyone else around him. And when we came back, this is just something little we can do to help people in our community.”
Now living in a small home and confined by space, the Sides are more than content with what they have, giving back as often as they can.
“We sold our sailboat, came back, got this little house, and it was already fully furnished. It’s been good ever since. We’ve enjoyed being back, and we still keep up with our cruiser friends. But we’re here to stay,” he said, adding that they are now "CLOD’s," (Cruisers Living On Dirt) by their sailing friends.
“We put our anchor down,” she joked. “And we’ve learned to be happy and content with a lot less.”
Transitioning from water to land, the Sides are thankful for the constant support of having caring neighbors during their recent pantry endeavor.
“We have good neighbors, and they’re helping us too. Waxahachie is just the perfect place for it,” Mrs. Sides mentioned.
MAKE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE
Raising community involvement to a whole new level in the spirit of love, the Sides’ have reached a broad audience through both online and public arenas.
“This is an alley, so we have a lot of street traffic on it, especially in the warmer weather, and we thought this thing would be neat for someone to grab something and eat on their way,” Mrs. Sides remarked about their home's location.
“When we first started, we thought people would be wiping it out of meanness, but we haven’t had any of it,” Mr. Sides said amazed. “This is for anybody. This is for you, this is for me, and if you see something you need – get it. That’s what it’s for. No money is involved, and if you got something you don’t need – put it in there.”
After four days of building the waterproof cabinet, the Sides were overwhelmed with the immediate action of the community.
“We’ve had numerous people, I don’t know how many, but they’ve wanted to build one. They’ve asked, ‘How’d you build it?’ They want to know, and I said, ‘Well, I just saw it on the internet.’ There aren't any specifications, just build a box and get the Plexiglas door,” he laughed with a shrug.
“And the people you wouldn’t think would need anything, they’ll take just a couple of things but more than likely, they’ll put something in there,” Mrs. Sides recalled, remembering a few instances she saw the community's character. “We have a lot of groups coming down the alley and one of them we were kind of concerned about because you think that everybody’s going to wipe it all out. So we were watching, and they came up to it, but instead of taking anything out, they put something in. So you’re already judging people by an appearance but their heart is so different. It just melted my heart and made my day when they did that."
Seeing the initial pantry idea online and inspired to do something about those in need, the Sides decided to implement their own version of the community chest to spread compassion. Since the pantry's installation on Jan. 26, the next step included making a Facebook Page to connect everyone interested.
“Last I saw we had 400 members that have asked to join, and we just started that two days ago, and it’s already at 400 likes. It’s crazy. But that just shows how good people’s hearts are. Waxahachie is just a wonderful town,” Mrs. Sides complimented.
“We don’t bother everyone on Facebook, just the ones interested in this,” Mr. Sides joked. “As much as everything bad going on, that’s all you hear on the news, it's just good to have something positive for a change.”
Creating a Facebook Page at the beginning of February, the collection of the pantry’s items grew, showcasing the generosity of not only Waxahachie but of those from other states as well.
“We’ve started a 'Little Pantry' group on the internet, and we’ll do an update, it’s a way we can tell people, ‘Okay, we’re getting low on supplies.’ Or if it gets full, we can't store too much of this stuff in our little house, so we'll let them know,” he expressed further. “By the hundreds, we’re having people online saying they want to do this, and they want to know what they can do, or what they can bring. We’ve had people from Austin get ahold of us and asked if they could send us some stuff in the mail. So we said, ‘You can do whatever you want,’ he laughed, accepting cross-country donations."
Not only does The Little Pantry provide opportunities to bless those from afar, but to also serve both ends of the giving spectrum.
“You can’t say no to people because that’s a blessing they’re getting. If they want to send it from Timbuktu, let them send it,” Mr. Sides chuckled. “But if it gets too much, we’ll get on our group page and say, ‘Okay, everybody hold off for a little bit, we’re getting stocked up here.’ We’re limited on our space,” he echoed.
“I’ve started to take a couple of bags to the neighbors around because sometimes we get so much,” Mrs. Sides added to her husband's thought.
“It helped me when I was building it. And it’s helping anybody who’s putting food in. And it’s helping the one’s getting the food out. I think it helps everybody," Mr. Sides included.
BASIC NEEDS MET ONE AT A TIME
And to those looking to start a Little Pantry of their own, the Sides advise that the contents of the pantry are consistent of non-perishable foods and sealed toiletries. They also warn against medicines or clothes being added to the shelves, and to always comply with the city’s ordinances. But most importantly – Mr. Sides emphasizes that a good attitude is essential to the project.
“You have to have the right attitude for it, and I even had to work on it myself. For example, a couple comes, a man and a woman with their dogs, and I saw them out there in the morning and got a loaf of bread and were gone. And I started thinking, ‘Are you going to feed those dogs that loaf of bread?’ You can’t worry about that. My job is to give it to them, and their job is to do what they want with it. But you have to have the right attitude. I had to work on that because you can’t worry about that,” he admitted.
As for the future of this modernized, grass-roots charity, the Sides hope it spreads and blesses the whole of Ellis County.
“It would be good to have some in different areas. I think it would be good for the entire community – it’s a win-win situation,” Mr. Sides began. “I would like to have it where it takes care of itself, stuff goes out, and stuff comes in, and we won’t have to monitor it all the time. Just like anybody who comes and puts stuff in, it just makes you feel good.”
“There are a few things you can do that serve a basic, immediate need, and this does. People need it, and it’s on their table that night. It’s labor of love,” Mrs. Sides smiled.
“It makes you feel good when someone puts something you gave the day before, and it’s on somebody’s table that night. It’s stuff that doesn’t affect us, and it’s extras that we had, and somebody is using it that night. It’s just cool to think we can do this in Waxahachie because we’re such a close-knit community,” she finished, taken aback by her community’s selfless generosity.
To connect with The Little Panty, visit "Waxahachie Little Pantry" on Facebook or take a gander for yourself at 304 West Fifth Street to drop off or pick up items.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer