Eric Salzwedel has been popping up on Madison news stations in the past couple weeks. The Marshall resident has been taking part in the #Venmochallenge; people send him money via the Venmo app then Salzwedel uses the funds to dole out huge tips to wait staff at restaurants. In seven weeks, he’s been able to give away $4,000.
The number 4,000 seems to be coming up in other places in Salzwedel’s life as a bit more than that amount is the number of pounds of donations the Little Free Pantry has taken in since March 23.
“I’ve always been big into philanthropy,” said Salzwedel, who moved to the village with his wife, Lindsey, in mid-December of 2019. “I’m big into finding ways to give back to the community.”
A few years ago, the 32-year-old saw a little free community pantry in another state on social media. It was something the couple wanted to pursue at some point.
A few months after moving to the village the Salzwedels recruited their friend, Bob Greathead from Columbus, to construct the Little Free Pantry to place in the yard of their home, located on the corner of Main Street and Pardee Street.
Inside the pantry, which looks similar to a Little Free Library, are non-perishable food items, personal hygiene products including diapers, and occasionally fresh produce. People can stop by at any time to grab what they may need.
Salzwedel’s wife jokes that the Little Community Pantry has become his part-time job, but the couple is dedicated to helping out the community. Every morning, Salzwedel sanitizes the handles and doors of the pantry and restocks it if it is running low on a particular product.
“You can see how much it’s getting used when it’s a grocery store bag’s worth being taken every day,” he said, noting that during the interview several people had already stopped by the pantry to pick up items.
So far, no one has abused the pantry. In fact, the Marshall resident has seen people who utilize the pantry have brought donations for it.
Salzwedel wasn’t sure what to expect when he and his wife opened the Little Free Pantry in terms of visits or donations.
As of Sept. 30, more than 4,000 worth of donations have been dropped off for the pantry.
There is a box on the couple’s front porch where donations can be dropped off. Each day, Salzwedel empties the box; checks expiration dates, sanitizes the items, weighs the daily donation, takes inventory of what was dropped off, and places the donations on shelves inside the home until the pantry needs to be restocked. There is also a cooler for fresh produce on the porch, but Salzwedel informs people to not bring food that needs to be refrigerated or frozen.
Personal hygiene items, such as body wash, soap, shampoo, tampons, toothpaste and toothbrushes are the most in demand, he said.
The couple also accepts monetary donations, all of which are used to buy more items to stock the pantry.
The existence of the Little Free Pantry has spread through messages on social media, word of mouth and people who have seen it while passing by the Salzwedel’s home.
Salzwedel emphasizes the pantry’s success is not just because of the couple’s decision to create the small structure; it comes from the community.
“I think it truly comes down to the community and shows that it truly takes a village to put something like this together,” he said. “We’re just honored to be able to kind of oversee it and run it smoothly. But it’s unbelievable.”
It’s not just limited to village residents; Salzwedel said people from neighboring communities have also provided donations and may have even used the pantry.
Salzwedel does not diminish the value of the Waterloo/Marshall Food Pantry. Rather, the Little Free Pantry is a bit more accessible by being open all day, every day.
“It allows those who are going through food insecurities right now to come whenever they want,” he said. “For those going through a tough time that they can come here late at night when nobody’s around, nobody’s looking at them, no one’s asking them questions, and grab what they need.
“I can’t imagine how tough it might be for someone to go through this or ask for help, Salzwedel said. “I know that’s not easy for everybody, especially if they just happen to be in a tough spot and we’re just blessed with the opportunity to have this up here.”