PACS Student Opens Community-Supported Food Pantry

Aley Cristelli, founder of OKC Pine Pantry

Filling a Need

More than 600,000 Oklahomans are food insecure.

For many families in Oklahoma, this means they don’t know when or where they’ll have their next meal. According to national statistics, Oklahomans are more likely to be food insecure than most people in the United States, and Oklahoma outpaces the national average for both low food security and very low food security. Thousands of people in our state live each day without having enough to eat, and this has serious implications for their health and well-being.

Aley Cristelli decided to take matters into her own hands after learning about the consequences hunger can have on a community.

“During my undergrad, I studied nutrition, and the information I learned really impacted the way I see food,” the Human and Health Services Administration student said. “When a child grows up without adequate resources it is difficult for them to thrive, and the same goes for adults. When you are worried about where your next meal will come from it becomes difficult to focus on much more.”

Cristelli is right. When you are forced to make the choice between meals or medicine, or between paying rent and making dinner, choosing the most nutritious option for your family is not always easy. For children, the effects of hunger are substantial. Research shows that children in families struggling from hunger may be more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, experience developmental impairments in areas like language and motor skills, and exhibit more social and behavioral problems than children from families who are not food insecure.

“I like to think of it as a modern cup of sugar. You would always help your neighbor if they needed help. This just takes away the need for them to ask.”

Cristelli decided to open a food pantry in her community to tackle the problem head on. If the pantry could distribute food to those who have difficulty purchasing it themselves, she could help ease some of the hunger in Oklahoma City.

Opening the pantry while working full-time and going to school proved to be hard work, but Cristelli was up to the challenge. She contacted city planners to ask for guidance, and she reached out to people who had opened pantries in their own communities to get their advice. She also secured support from business owners in Oklahoma City and found a property owner willing to give the pantry a home.

“Tell others about your idea and you will be surprised at how many people are willing to help,” she said. “I have had a tremendous amount of support from family and friends. I am fortunate to be surrounded by really talented people who are willing to offer their services to make sure this project is as great as I hope.”

The result of her efforts is well worth the work: Pine Pantry.

Pine Pantry

Officially open to the public since April 2017, Pine Pantry is a community-supported free food pantry in Oklahoma City. The pantry offers food to anyone with a need—no forms or paperwork required.

“Pine Pantry offers a resource to help the community take care of itself,” Cristelli said. “If someone is able to provide for their neighbors, they place their items in the pantry. In return, if someone is hungry and needs help, they are welcome to take what they need. 

“I like to think of it as a modern cup of sugar. You would always help your neighbor if they needed help. This just takes away the need for them to ask.”

Cristelli got the idea for the pantry from her grandmother, a woman who inspired her to take care of others and provide what she could for those around her.

“Grandma never let anyone go hungry, and as we grew older she would send me and my cousins out to deliver plates to friends and neighbors. I see myself as picking up where she left off,” she said. “Connecting with others over food is something we do so often, and it really contributes to people’s health in the long run. To me, there is no reason anyone should go to bed hungry when we are throwing away food. We just needed a way to make those two things connect.”

Pine Pantry seems to be just the thing.

Pine Pantry is an Oklahoma City-based food pantry that opened in the Plaza District in April 2017, and Cristelli says a second location is already in the works. She and her team will be hosting events and fundraisers in the coming months to accommodate program expansion, special requests and providing food to the community. More information about making donations or volunteering can be found on Facebook at, on Instagram @pinepantry or through email at

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Mary Hopper

Mary Hopper specializes in digital and content marketing at PACS. She is the project manager for the marketing department's team of writers, manages the college's digital advertising, and serves as editor and contributor for the PACS blog and social media efforts.