Our series "A More Perfect Union" aims to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In communities across the country, people are getting creative to make sure their neighbors do not go hungry. Roughly 40 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they cannot always afford food. Adriana Diaz visited one Minnesota neighborhood where a simple idea is helping many families in need.
Every day when Jamie Hendricks gets home, she gets to work checking her pantry and filling it up.
"Today we need to restock some more of the vegetables and some more of the macaroni type of items," Hendricks says.
The food isn't for her family, its for her community in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Hendricks' planted the North End Free Pantry in her front yard. She got the idea from "Little Free Libraries," where neighbors lend and borrow books. But she's replaced books with food. So many people took the free food, she had to replace her two-and-a-half-foot pantry with a seven-foot one.
"That told me that we have a much bigger problem a much bigger need in our community than what I had even thought," said Hendricks.
Every day when she comes home there's usually some things gone, Hendricks said. In St. Paul, 20% of people live below the poverty line; that's more than 8% above the national poverty rate.
Angelique Rush knows what it's like to choose between paying bills and buying groceries for her husband and four kids.
"Now we don't get paid for another three days, so we are at the pantry trying to figure out what we can feed the kids since they're out of school," Rush said as she approaches the pantry. She's hoping for some breakfast and something to make that her kids can warm up while she's at work.
Rush learned about the pantry on Facebook. She's gone to food banks, but they have limited hours and some require proof of income. She says she and her husband make $75 too much to qualify for food stamps.
"Having the pantry and it being anonymous, it helps a lot," Rush said. "It makes it so you don't have to answer to anybody. Or feel shameful."
Rush says there's nothing worse than having little food and nothing her kids want to eat.
"As a mom it makes you feel really sad that they don't want to eat ramen noodles or they don't want to eat the soup you got, but they have to because you don't have anything else to feed them. It's really hard."
Hendricks says her life experience led her to create the pantry for others.
"When we grew up, we didn't have a lot of money," she said. "That was the same when my daughters were young, but we always found a way to be able to make it and to be able to help other people."
Free food pantries have popped up nationwide. One online directory shows more than 700 listed.
Hendricks's neighbor Rosie Thuhl sees the impact as people come for food everyday.
"It's not only that [people are] taking but people are almost two, three times a week bringing stuff," Thuhl said.
"It kind of provides a little bit of hope for people," Hendricks said. "And not just in the sense that there's something there but that other people care."
What kind of world would we be living in if everyone did a small thing like Hendricks?
"A non-hungry world, that's for sure," Rush said. "It would make it easier for people to survive."