Taking action to tackle food insecurity in Indianapolis 

College student creates the Community Food Box Project

click to enlarge SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • submitted photo
An idea that came from a social change project and a Huffington Post article (with a little help from NUVO) is blossoming into a major movement in Indianapolis.

Hanover College student Sierra Nuckols had just returned from a trip to South Africa as an Indianapolis Youth Fellow through the Desmond Tutu Center at Christian Theological Seminary. The fellowship program empowers emerging leaders to tackle social justice change around the world and here in Indiana. Once back from South Africa, it was time for Nuckols to create a project to address an issue here at home. Nuckols had chosen food insecurity and access as her topic of interest.

“My original idea was to do fresh food and come up with something involving urban farming,” says Nuckols. “But then my mom sent me an article from the Huffington Post about these little free pantry boxes in Arkansas.”


The article highlighted a program in Fayetteville, AR created by Jessica McClard. She got the idea while jogging, noticing the free box libraries on street corners that provide reading material for people — something Indianapolis also has in various places. In the article McClard recalls how she thought the “Little Free Libraries” idea could also be used to address other social problems. Her “Little Free Pantry” idea was born.

RELATED: Hunger is no game 

Nuckols changed the focus of her project and decided to bring the same idea to Indianapolis. The concept is simple — provide a weatherproof box filled with non-perishable food and basic personal hygiene items that are easily accessible and free to anyone who might need the goods.

With the idea in place, Nuckols began to figure out how to turn the idea into a reality.

“Initially I thought I would build the boxes,” said Nuckols. “But then I noticed in the comment section of the article where someone had suggested the use of newspaper distribution boxes.”
click to enlarge The first Community Food Box is all stocked and ready to go. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • The first Community Food Box is all stocked and ready to go.
  • submitted photo
Nuckols reached out to NUVO for any spare distribution boxes that could be donated to her project and found success and enthusiasm for her project. Armed with a proposal for potential sites and a plan to keep the boxes sustained, Nuckols was able to secure the first location. Within just a few weeks of reading the Huffington Post article, Nuckols set up the first Community Pantry Box at IPS School #56 (Francis W. Parker Elementary School) on the near east side. 

Since the announcement of the first box, Nuckols has received an outpouring of support and questions about her project. The post has nearly 900 likes and over 1,500 shares on Facebook. One thousand of those shares were made in less than 48 hours from the time the original post was made.

“I’ve heard from people in Kentucky, Missouri, and Austin, Texas,” said Nuckols. “There are currently six neighborhoods that are on a waiting list for a box and others who have said they plan to organize and start a box of their own.”

Not all of the responses have been positive. Nuckols said some people have expressed concern about possible poisonings or heat issues, but she hasn’t let those comments get her down. She does admit that the idea took off so fast that it almost became overwhelming.

“At first I was so overwhelmed that I thought, ‘How can I keep up? I can’t do this,’” said Nuckols. “But I took a moment and realized that this was a good thing and didn’t let it get me down.”

Two additional boxes are already in the works and should be placed very soon at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center on West 40th Street just north or Tarkington Park. According to Nuckols, the community center will take donations to keep their box stocked. Another box is also planned for The Rock Missionary Baptist Church on East 38th Street.
click to enlarge The first Commnity Food box is located on the lawn of IPS School #56. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • The first Commnity Food box is located on the lawn of IPS School #56.
  • submitted photo
Food access and food insecurity in Indianapolis is a big issue. Nuckols knows her community food boxes are not the answer to a long-standing systemic problem. Still she hopes the boxes will be a starting point.

“The boxes are a great idea, but there is a larger issue at a hand,” said Nuckols. “Ultimately I hope to create a larger conversation about food deserts in Indianapolis. I don’t know who that conversation is supposed to be for or who it is supposed to be with, but the conversation needs to happen.”

Desmond Tutu Center Youth Fellows

The Youth Fellows Program is a relatively new initiative at the Desmond Tutu Center. Established through a gift from the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, the program seeks to empower emerging leaders from Central Indiana and South Africa. Sierra Nuckols is one of young Hoosiers selected to be in the inaugural cohort from Indiana. The young leaders are each tasked with developing a project designed to invoke social change.

As a part of the fellowship, the Indiana leaders traveled South Africa last month for an educational tour of Cape Town. They also had the opportunity to meet the namesake of the center, Bishop Desmond Tutu.

“It was inspiring and empowering,” said Nuckols of the trip. “Desmond Tutu told us, ‘Don't sell yourself short, you can dream. Reach for the stars.’ I think the experience in South Africa really changed my life and inspired me to make a change!”
click to enlarge The first group of youth fellows got to meet Bishop Desmond Tutu during their trip to South Africa. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • The first group of youth fellows got to meet Bishop Desmond Tutu during their trip to South Africa.
  • submitted photo
The program is reciprocal and in 2017, the Indianapolis center is scheduled to receive a cohort of South African young people who will pair up with organizations related to their social justice focus areas. They will learn lessons in Indiana to carry back to South Africa for their own projects to uplift their local communities.

Although Nuckols’ project developed almost a life of its own in record time, her other fellows are working on projects of their own to address needs in Central Indiana. Topics of interest include HIV/AIDS awareness, orphan assistance, positive self-image awareness for African American women and girls, racial equity and awareness for teens, educational access, inequality issues, disenfranchised youth and rape prevention and consent education.

The Desmond Tutu Center for Peace, Reconciliation and Global Justice is a collaborative effort of Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary that launched in 2013.

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Amber Stearns

Amber Stearns

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Amber Stearns was born, raised, and educated right here in Indianapolis. She holds a B.S. in Communications from the University of Indianapolis (1995). Following a 20-year career in radio news in Indiana, Amber joined NUVO as News Editor in 2014.

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