Polly Torkelson and her Little Free Pantry

Polly Torkelson: Little Free Pantry

Thanks to Southview Animal Hospital for their support.

This spring a new Little Free Library went up on Bernard Avenue just west of Harmon Park. But instead of a library giving away books, it’s a pantry giving away nonperishable food.

Polly Torkelson, and her husband Jeramie, are behind the neighborhood food pantry. They were inspired by Polly’s mother, Donna O’Malley, who passed away in 2019.

What makes me most proud is to catch someone stopping to read the sign and they smile or nod—and they come back with a bag of food to donate.

Polly Torkelson

About Polly Torkelson

Polly Torkelson next to her Little Free Pantry

The Torkelsons have lived in West St. Paul since 2014—they actually bought the house on Polly’s mom’s birthday. Polly and Jeremie have two kids and two dogs. Polly works as a DME service coordinator for M Health Fairview at Woodwinds Hospital in Woodbury.

She enjoys Zumba, running, playing outside with her dogs, and all things music related.

A Conversation With Polly Torkelson

After seeing the Torkelson’s Little Free Pantry, we reached out to learn more about the project from Polly.

What prompted you to create a Little Free Pantry? 

After my mom passed away, Jeramie and I talked about doing or creating something to honor her memory, and this came to mind. We have so many Little Free Libraries around West St. Paul, but I’ve never come across a pantry. We put it off for the first two years, but during COVID-19 lockdown, we decided this would be a good project to tackle.  

The sign mounted below the Little Free Pantry.

The sign on the pantry notes that it’s dedicated to your late mother. Can you tell us about her?  

What a question. Her name was Donna and she passed away from complications of alcoholism two years ago. Her life was filled with many hardships and hurdles, and we didn’t have a good relationship.

Regardless of what little food or money she had to herself, she was always giving away things to the neighbors in her apartment or her family and friends. Her favorite thing to do was bake and cook, and there were times she would make enough food to feed the entire building. Every time I would visit her she would give me a box full of things for myself and the kids. It usually included a jar of jumbo pickles, beef jerky, and fuzzy socks. She was a very loud woman with a very colorful vocabulary, but never forgot to be kind. 

Building this Little Free Pantry has been a cathartic process in some ways, as it’s helped me to let go of some of the anger I’ve held onto for many years in regards to her. Sometimes I imagine her sitting out next to the panty in her lawn chair, watching and smiling as people go by and take things.

What has the reaction been to the pantry? 

All positive. There have been many people who walk by and comment on it. I’ve had kids take snacks out of it and thank us if we are sitting outside. 

What makes me most proud is to catch someone stopping to read the sign and they smile or nod—and they come back with a bag of food to donate. That’s when I know I’ve made a positive impact.  

Stencil work on the side of the Little Free Pantry.

What do your neighbors think about it?

We didn’t tell the neighbors we were putting it up, we just did it. Now that it’s been up, our next-door neighbor has asked to put food in it.  

Why is something like this necessary?

Coming from a family whose mom relied on food stamps and food shelves, I believe there is a stigma behind food insecurity. It’s one thing to offer free and/or reduced food; it’s another to make sure the food is accessible. We live on a really busy street right next to Harmon Park, so there is easy access to the Little Free Pantry. And just as the sign says: take what you need, give what you can. There is no judgment.  

Thanks to Polly Torkelson for sharing her thoughts with us.

Local stories like this only happen with your support.

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