Several weeks before the presidential election, Sara Powers put the finishing touches on a free community pantry.
The wooden structure she calls “The Giving Tree” stands in a public park, and allows neighbors in her small Midwest town to fill the shelves with food and toiletries. Then, those who need it can come any time to take from it without stipulations or limitations.
In the short time it has been there, it has been working as planned. As soon as its contents are depleted, someone comes along and anonymously restocks it.
But Powers, a 33-year-old mother of four, did not know what to expect when she went to check on it the day after the election. In the Missouri county where she lives, nearly 80 percent voted for Donald Trump, making Powers a minority in her support for Hillary Clinton. Everything post-election felt fraught. With everyone so bitterly divided, would they still prioritize kindness?
What she found, and has continued to find every day since, is that yes, despite the tensions over the election, the people in her town of West Plains continued to refill the pantry. For Powers, that small action was a reminder that the ugliness of the election was not a reflection of America.
On the Facebook page she created for the pantry she wrote:
This week has been hard. Hard to see friends arguing, people divided. But to the people that gave to the pantry today, none of that mattered. They don’t know if the people that take what they gave are Republican or Democrat. Conservative or Liberal. Religious or not. Pro-life or Pro-choice. They don’t care.
I think that’s how the vast majority of us are, we’ve just gotten distracted. We think that our neighbors are against us. And that’s just not true. I’m ready for us all to see the good in each other again. Thank you to whoever it was that donated today. I know you thought all you gave was bottles of water and some food, but you gave much more than that today. You gave me a heart full of faith in my fellow people.
She also shared similar thoughts with the 3.6 million members of the Pantsuit Nation Facebook page, the not-so-secret pro-Clinton group created in the weeks before the election. She has been inundated with positive comments there, many from people who are interested in starting a free pantry in their communities.
Powers acknowledges that the pantry alone is not a long-term solution to solve hunger or poverty, but said it is a way for people to give and receive in an actionable way. No one is vetted or questioned about what they’re taking. There’s an understanding and a trust that the people who take from the pantry need it.
The donations come from strangers who will not be recognized for their altruism or likely ever know who the recipients of it are, and that has renewed Powers’ belief that people, despite their politics, are fundamentally good.
This election, she said, made us lose sight of that.
“There are so many different ways people can put kindness back out into the world,” she said in an interview. “If we all responded this way I feel like the world would be in such a better place in four years. If everybody who was disappointed put that energy into good things, a lot of good things could happen.”
There are a lot of people feeling hurt and angered by Trump’s win. But instead of demonizing Trump voters as all bad people, she said it is imperative to find ways like this to work together for the betterment of everybody.
“You have to practice what you preach,” she said. “I know it sounds like a Pollyanna world, but I want that.”
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