Free food available in two communities, no questions asked
Rebecca Seman’s garden sits behind a row of bushes about 5-feet-tall near the corner of Bliss and Epsy Streets in Nanticoke.
Veggies like tomatoes and cucumbers grow in raised garden beds in the spots where the shady yard gets sun. A flock of chickens peck around the yard while three ducks run in circles.
At the end of that row of bushes is a small yellow house propped up on a post inside a raised flower bed. Cucumber vines and sunflowers crawl up a metal trellis above it. That small house is deep. Cans of peas, applesauce and tomato sauce and bags of beans and pasta sit inside the Nanticoke Little Free Pantry.
Two local organizations headed by Northeast Pennsylvania natives are giving back to the communities they grew up in. Seman's Little Free Food Pantry and Fruits and Roots in Blakely are providing food to those in need, no questions asked.
Seman’s brother built the structure in 2020. It’s modeled after the free little library movement. She saw how her community was struggling during the pandemic and wanted to give back.
"Books are great ... but food is even better," she said. "It seemed to be a huge issue that everyone was having.”
Outside the Valley Community Library on River Street in Peckville section of Blakely is the lime green Fruits & Roots Community Refrigerator. It’s stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables.
“It's important to see that the people in your community are being taken care of," said Maria DeLeo, who along with Kristen Sokoloski cofounded the project.
DeLeo and Sokoloski grew up in Peckville. Sokoloski works on a similar community refrigerator project in Philadelphia where she lives. They researched food insecurity in Lackawanna County.
"There's almost 27,000 people in Lackawanna County alone that are considered food insecure," said DeLeo, a Physician's Assistant in Geisinger’s Nutrition and Weight Management Department. "They don't know where their next meal is coming from.”
The refrigerator officially opened on Saturday, Aug. 12. They purchased the appliance with money raised on GoFundMe. The library is picking up the electric bill. The project is managed completely by volunteers, said DeLeo.
"The fact that it's run by volunteers in our community to help other neighbors in the community, I think is what's really important," she said.
In Nanticoke, Seman will invite people into her yard. She wants to show them that food can be grown anywhere. Any extra produce, including what sprouts up around the pantry is available for the community.
Seman said it's a humbling experience to provide the pantry. She’s a single mom. In the past, she’s faced poverty and homelessness.
“There's times when you have to deal with food insecurity and you don't know where your food is going to come from," she said. "and the thing about the pantry is it's been there when we've needed it."
She said there might not be a full meal in the box but if someone has meat or sauce: "they can come down and get some pasta and some ... say some green beans or corn and ... they can make a full meal for themselves."
Both Seman and DeLeo want to grow their missions. DeLeo said eventually she hopes Fruits and Roots Refrigerators will be in communities across Lackawanna County.
"There's a need for it and the community has been pretty receptive," she said.
The refrigerator is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Fresh produce donations can simply be placed in the refrigerator. On the project's Facebook, there is a list of items Fruits & Roots does not accept, including meat and leftovers. Monetary donations for the refrigerator can be made to the Scranton Area Foundation.
Seman has an Amazon Wish List for the Nanticoke Little Free Pantry. She said to contact her through the pantry’s Facebook for monetary donations. She hopes to get a community garden running. She’s also looking for a local church that will also host a food pantry.