Astoria Characters: The Scout Who Set Up the Little Free Pantry

Lucas McGarvey is standing on the sidewalk stocking the Little Free Pantry, something he does at least once a week.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lucas is a member of Troop 65.

He’s glad he stopped by today, because there’s not much in there — just a couple of cans of carrots and soup and a box of cereal.

He opens his shopping bag and pulls out packages of pasta, arranging them artfully on the shelves.

Lucas, a member of Boy Scouts of America Troop 65 and earner of 30 merit badges, opened the pantry on the grounds of his church, Grace Lutheran, on Aug. 30.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The Little Free Pantry at Grace Lutheran Church at 31-20 21st Ave.

He’s 14.

He’s aiming to be an Eagle Scout, and the pantry project was part of his application.

“I think that people want to help, but they don’t know where to do it,” he says. “The Little Free Pantry is a way to see that your donations make an impact because you can donate a box of pasta and come back the next day and see that it’s gone. It’s almost an intimate experience.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lucas created a community to build the pantry.

Lucas, a freshman at Stuyvesant High School who has serious eyes and silver braces, got the idea for the pantry a couple of years ago when it was mentioned at church.

“I thought it was a cool way to support the community,” he says. “And now, with the pandemic, even more people need it.”

In July, when school was out and everyone was sheltering in place, Lucas began building the pantry and community support for the project.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lucas stocks the pantry at least once a week.

First, he enlisted his family: his parents, front-line doctors Melissa Lee and Scott McGarvey, and his 13-year-old brother, William, and 12-year-old sister, Calla, who are enrolled at P.S. 122.

“Because of the pandemic, they were the only people I could safely work with,” he says.

He collaborated with his troop and got help from church members.

In addition, he tapped the business community: City Lumber in Long Island City provided the wood, and All Weather Roofing & Waterproofing in Woodside donated the shingles for the structure.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lucas is a freshman at Stuyvesant High.

“We stitched it all together,” Lucas says.

The unassuming pantry, which is painted barn red, was built outdoors at the church by Lucas and his team.

It has two doors. Over one, there’s a hand-painted sign that says “Help Yourself;” over the other it says “Help Another.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lucas believes young people can make a difference.

“I’m really, really happy to see people donating and receiving aid,” Lucas says, adding that he was worried that he would have to create fliers and post them on telephone poles to get a response. “Now that the church’s school is in session, we are encouraging the school kids to bring a weekly offering.”

Lucas, whose troop is chartered by the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens, joined Scouting because of the camaraderie.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lucas thanks the community for helping get the pantry up and running.

“I’ve developed friends with people from different schools,” he says.

Through Scouting, Lucas has learned a lot of skills, including first aid and knot tying, that city kids like him typically aren’t taught.

He decided to become an Eagle Scout because “a Scout’s journey is never finished; it’s learning to be an active member of the community and learning to lead people. These values carry over into everyday life.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
The pantry’s beauty lies in its simplicity.

In addition to Scouting, Lucas is involved in a variety of activities ranging from baseball to ballet.

“I play the violin but not very well,” he concedes. “And I learned the ukulele for school.”

Although Lucas, who sees the world as a bright, shiny penny, isn’t sure which career path he wants to pursue, he knows he wants to remain involved in the community because “we, as young people, can make the world a better place.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Lucas is encouraging others to build little pantries.

That’s why he is encouraging others to build more pantries, as an immediate – not a permanent — solution to halting hunger.

“One pantry isn’t going to solve the problem,” he says. “I want people to realize that anybody can do it, and everybody can make an impact.”

Nancy A. Ruhling may be reached at;  @nancyruhling; nruhling on Instagram,,

Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling