With the scores of criminals, perverts, duplicitous evening gowns, and Martin Shkreli, it's easy to feel a little cynical about morality and the Internet. But sometimes the Interweb surprises me, and fills my usually black heart with gooey, awkward tenderness.
Such is the case with Reddit's Food Pantry -- a subreddit set up to directly and (if you so choose) anonymously connect those in need with those willing to help, in the short term, close to home. The Front Page of the Internet™ isn't just about banana-based measurements and baby elephant GIFs. Altruism is hiding behind the snark and banter of the front page. You just need to know where to find it.
Anyone who needs help can ask for it
People request food on the site for varying reasons, from temporary financial hardships to medical issues. Most of them are highly personal pleas for help that include direct links to Amazon wish lists, or even Paypal accounts. Here are some examples:
[REQUEST] Sick and bedridden, seriously lacking food and desperate for some supplies...
Been pretty sickly the past year, but the last week I have been especially sick and it is making it very hard for me to get around... I basically have a huge stockpile of canned vegetables and mac and cheese. It is hard to get proper nutrition from those alone.
[REQUEST] Narrowly avoided eviction but completely out of food
I work in IT, and was released from my contract at the very end of December. I have had a tough time finding work since then, and spent all of January unemployed. I am very thankfully employed as of 2/1, but I will not be getting paid until the very end of the month, and I am completely out of money and nearly out of groceries.
And helpers respond
The above are just two of the hundreds of requests that have poured in over the four years the subreddit has been operating. The donators are just as varied. Although some prefer to wait in the wings, and respond privately to requests, others choose to create posts that offer help. Check out these examples!
[Offer] 93534 Have food I can deliver locally.
Hi so I have a bunch of food in my fridge I will never eat. And instead of throwing it away I figured I can give it to someone who needs it.
[Offer] Box of assorted mac & cheese products [U.S.]
I have an open case of Kraft mac & cheese microwaveable cups from Costco I can't use and can't donate (the case is open; the cups are not)...If you would benefit from this, or if you simply LOVE mac & cheese and need a pick-me-up, please leave a comment below. I will ship the box the week after Thanksgiving (shipping is covered—that's part of the offer).
It really works!
There is an option to designate your offer or request as "fulfilled," which turns it a pleasant purple shade, and for the most part, the comment sections are littered with information and updates about each case. Sometimes, recipients will post notes of gratitude. Here are even more examples:
[THANKS] Thank you so much for helping things feel normal with your kindness and generosity.
...With what has [sic] delivered has done my family a lot of good and things have been able to feel normal for my kids in our household.
[Thanks] to /u/Hegulator for the food!
The soup and salmon and mayo have arrived safe and sound. Greatly appreciated!
People are connected without any middlemen
All the interactions (unless both parties agree otherwise) occur directly through Reddit.
And it's totally not a scam
Trust me, I was skeptical, too. But to combat would-be culinary con artists, the subreddit has some guidelines:
- Users need to be active Redditors, who have had their account for at least three months. This means you can't just make an account and request food immediately after.
- Users must have a verified, outside email address
- Users must include their ZIP code
- It's specifically outlined that help is provided on a purely short-term basis, and not a long-term solution. Meaning this is just temporary relief, and not an ongoing system of support.
- They clearly monitor suspected offenders, as evidenced by their banned ZIP code page. In addition, the subreddit is designed to connect those in need, directly with people who can help. Meaning you aren't sending food or supplies blindly to an organization.
This is a legitimate tool to help those in need
It's important to remember how the Internet, and widely used, community-based platforms like Reddit, can be used to make a real difference in people's lives. You might be cynical, and believe these people are abusing the system, but you can't ignore the safeguards the community has developed. We use the Internet to find roommates, buy cars/homes, and even find agricultural soulmates -- why not more base needs, like food, too?
If you need some help (and it's not only food! Vital items like cleaning supplies and diapers are also fair game.), try this legitimate, if not exactly mainstream route. And for those looking for a little bit of karma, both in the Internet and cosmic sense, it's the perfect outlet to aid your community while never leaving the couch.
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Wil Fulton is a staff writer for Thrillist. You should probably check your blood sugar after reading this. Follow him: @wilfulton.