Introduction: Neighborhood Free Food Stand Made From Pallets

About: They are an an anarcho-queer hedgewitch, farmer, game designer, writer, artist, crafter and maker.

I made a Free Stand for food and non-food items for my neighborhood out of pallets, some recycled plastic panels and steel roofing, and so can you!

The Free Stand is for neighbors to freely give and take free food and non-food items with space for potted plants and coolers below the stand.

Neighbors can also do outreach to local farmers, farmers markets, restaurants, grocers, food pantries, food banks and organizations to source donations for the Free Stand.

Take what you need, give what you can.

Redistribute for greater community food and resource security!


  • Background
  • Liability and Permits
  • Materials
  • Instructions
  • Safety, Sanitation, Guidelines
  • Spread the Free Stands!

Step 1: Background

This idea comes from Food Not Lawns‘s “Free Box”:

"A free box can be a cardboard box in front of the house, put out for a few days until the stuff is gone, or an established space in the community to which people take their surplus and look for what they need. If your neighborhood doesn’t have a free box, build one in an unused side yard or the local park. Build a big wooden box, big enough to hold larger items but not so large that you can’t reach to the bottom. Drill holes in the bottom for drainage, in case something spills or rain gets in, and if you want to get fancy put a simple roof over the box. Post a sign that says FREE BOX and make a note asking people not to leave trash or toxic waste such as motor oil.People will gather at the free box, giddy over the plethora of good free stuff, and will bring their surplus clothes, furniture, plants, and other items there rather than throwing them out or giving them to a thrift store. Relationships will begin, and resources will flow. I recommend having a volunteer “free-box monitor”—someone who stops by once every couple of weeks, pulls out the trash and recycling, and takes stuff that no one has claimed to a thrift store or shelter. This role usually falls, by default, to the house that hosts the free box, but it is better when rotated among neighbors, to keep one person or household from burning out." –Food Not Lawns, Heather Jo Flores

I wanted something akin to the “Free Box” but with more shade for items and space for coolers for perishable food so that local gardeners and farmers could redistribute their extras with less waste. I wanted to use almost entirely all pallet wood, have the shelves up higher for more cooler space, and the sides covered to help against the elements.

So my partner and I started collecting free pallets around town, took a few apart, and experimented with the design. If it falls apart, I figured, I can always find more pallet wood to remake it!

It's been five months and its still going strong! We have made 4 now in our city, and someone has made their own version out of spare wood and particle board and have requests to make more. We organize and share large food donations on a private facebook group, which now has over 1000 members.

Step 2: Location, Liability and Permits

(info here is from: freedge and little free pantry folks)


Like little free pantries and community fridges, I and others view free stands and these other outdoor pantries as common property and should be governed by community rules. Food Health codes are normally made for restaurants and other food businesses, and not with community food sharing in mind. Health inspectors know that and tend to be tolerant as long as they see you have your own rules and are serious about them. Unfortunately the idea of food sharing through these methods is not always accepted by health authorities and hosts can sometimes face legal battles.

If you have the appropriate permissions, avoid siting in an easement, and keep your free stand and coolers clean in good condition, you are not likely to have issues. You may choose to purchase personal or commercial liability insurance; however, most hosts do not. (Homeowner’s policies typically contain coverage for other structures, and this line item cannot be deleted.)

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (42 USCA § 1791), in most situations, protects from civil and criminal liability those who donate food products to a nonprofit organization for distribution to needy individuals. Establishing or donating to an affiliated Little Free Pantry project is not a guarantee of protection from liability under this law. If you have specific questions about liability or any applicable regulations to a Little Free Pantry in your area, you should consult an attorney.

You may choose to post an on site disclaimer; however, most mini pantry stewards do not.

Liability protection:

According to a report from the University of Arkansas, lawsuits arising out of the donation or provision of recovered food are extremely uncommon. We believe the focus on liability, more specifically financial responsibility, is detrimental to the idea of community responsibility implied in community food sharing. Even so, we understand property-owners are often concerned about liability and this can be an obstacle when looking for a suitable location. See below what protections you have:


The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects food donors against liability, when the donation happens through a nonprofit. Many states, such as California and Colorado, extend this protection to food businesses.

You can also partner with a non-profit through fiscal sponsorship to use their non-profit liability covered in the Good Samaritan Food Donation Ace.

Find state-specific legal guides that give information about liability protection, what types of food you can share and permit requirements.


All Canadian provinces protect “person-to-person” food donations against liability.

Location, and Do you need a permit?

In most places, owner permission is sufficient to locate on private property; however, there are exceptions (notably, HOAs). Do what diligence you must to feel great about proceeding.

Generally, keep in your city’s good graces by steering clear of easements and the apron between the sidewalk and the street.

The best locations have good street- side parking and sidewalks, and a flat spot for the Free Stand where it can face north/east to minimize sun on the shelves.

If you decide you want your municipal entity’s go-ahead and/or your dream location is on city property and you don’t have an inside contact (start there if you do!), go to your city’s website and find “permitting.” Select the permitting type most like a mini pantry.

Most places will welcome your free stand. Should you run into difficulty, take a look at Little Free Library’s How to Deal with Zoning Laws, Municipal Regulations and HOA Rules

Please do not proceed without feeling great about it. Consult an attorney and/or your policy provider if you are at all concerned.

Step 3: Supplies

The Free Stand’s Dimensions are: 47″ wide (at the top, not counting the roof) x 40″ long (not counting the roof)x 74″ tall in the front, 63″ tall in the back.

NOTE on the design: You do not have to use the same size pallet wood as I do here. We were working with what we had collected and was in good shape, figuring out the design by a bit of trial and error. What is most important is that the deck boards (well 4/9 of them at least) and the runner boards on the pallet used for the shelf have the same length.

Pallet wood used:

    • 1 pallet – 44″ x 44″ (go for a square sized pallet)
    • 4 – 1″ x 3 3/4″ x 44″ (Deck boards) (these should be same length as the runner board of the pallet used for the shelf.
    • 4 – 1/2″ x 3 3/8″ x 40″ (Deck boards from a different sized pallet) (these should be slightly shorter than the above 5 boards.
    • 1 -- longer deck board for the front bottom horizontal board. Should be 48"-50" for this size stand (4-8" longer than the runner board of the shelf) OR you can over lap two shorter deck boards for this.
    • 8 – 1 1/4″ x 3 3/8 x 48″ (Runner boards)

    Non-wood materials needed:

      • Waterproof, mold resistant exterior for shelf. Currently we use NRP® 4' x 8' Pebbled White Plastic Interior Wall Panel-$21.99
      • Steel panel 8′ x 38″ that is cut in half and overlapped for the roof-$21.27
      • Combination Bike Lock-~$5
      • Cooler(s) with handles-Varies, try to find donated coolers(try free fb groups in your area!)
      • Work gloves
      • Goggles
      • Masks
      • Dish Detergent
      • Water
      • Bleach (optional)
      • Bucket
      • Garden hose or pressure washer
      • Scrub brush
      • Ducktape
      • Pencil


      • Screws (exterior construction are best, but 3x the cost, I’ve used interior T25 6-lobe bit screws on exterior projects before and had a lot of success and longevity from them)
        • 1 lb #2 Phillips drive construction screws #6 x 1 1/4"
        • 1 lb T25 6 Lobe construction screws #8 1 3/4"
        • 1 lb T25 6 Lobe construction screws #9 x 3 1/8″
      • Hex washer head Pole Barn Screws #12 x 3/4"

      Finishing touches:

      Note: How much work you want to put into the finishing touches of the stand is up to you and the quality and source of your pallets, you can always find more pallets to reuse and rebuild.

      • Sand with 80 grit sandpaper (sander optional)
      • Exterior primer paint (optional)
      • Exterior paint (optional)
      • Exterior polyurethane sealant-$15.97 or $8.97 (optional, do not need if not using shelves for direct contact with perishable food/produce)
      • Stencils or vinyl lettering for signage for the stand (optional)


      • Reciprocating saw and metal cutting 12 inch demolition blade, or crowbar and hammer to remove pallet wood
      • Hammer and/or crowbar to remove or flatten nails/nail fragments
      • Sander and/or sand paper (80 grit) (optional: see above)
      • Tape measure
      • Level (free app on phone)
      • Electric drill
      • 1/4″ Hex drill bit
      • T25 6 Lobe drill bit
      • #2 Phillips drive bit
      • Drill bit extender
      • Long 1/8″ drill bit to predrill holes
      • Box cutter

      Step 4: Collect Your Pallets

      Collect pallets until you have 4-5 decent quality ones. Look on Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, check pet supply and food stores, hardware, furniture and equipment stores, small business dumpsters, schools, fresh produce markets, local pallet recycler or manufacturer. Read more here. Check the labeling on pallets and look for DB (debarked), HT (heat-treated), KD (kiln-dried) or EPAL (European Pallet Association Logo).

      Step 5: Disassemble Pallets

      Choose one pallet that is in the best shape to be the shelving, ideally this will be more square in size and will be from a source that used it only for food, such as a grocery story. Take off the bottom deck boards of that pallet. You can disassemble with a crowbar, crowbar and hammer, or a reciprocating saw. The reciprocating saw is my preference, it’s easier and boards less likely to crack and splinter in the process. Read more on how to disassemble pallets here. Wear work gloves, goggles and a mask.

      Inspect your wood pieces:

      Collect the wood pieces you will need from your disassembled pallets:

      • 1 pallet – 44″ x 44″ (go for a square sized pallet)
      • 4 – 1″ x 3 3/4″ x 44″ (Deck boards) (these should be same length as the runner board of the pallet used for the shelf.
      • 4 – 1/2″ x 3 3/8″ x 40″ (Deck boards from a different sized pallet) (these should be slightly shorter than the above 5 boards.
      • 1 -- longer deck board for the front bottom horizontal board. Should be
        48"-50" for this size stand (4-8" longer than the runner board of the shelf) OR you can over lap two shorter deck boards for this.
      • 8 – 1 1/4″ x 3 3/8 x 48″ (Runner boards)

      Lesson Learned:

      You can find and use different size boards/pallets, what is most important is that the deck boards (well 4/9 of them at least) and the runner boards on the pallet used for the shelf have the same length, and that the pallet for the shelf be more square sized.

      Remove Nails:

      Look for sharp protrusions. Wear thick, non-porous gloves to inspect the pallet. Check the whole pallet to see if there are any nails or tacks sticking out. If you find a protruding nail, remove it with the claw of a hammer. If there are many tacks, you can remove them with a tack puller. If you cannot remove these, hammer them until they are flattened into the wood.

      Step 6: Clean and Prep Your Pallet Pieces

      Wash your wood pieces

      Wash your pieces initially with a garden hose or pressure washer, then let dry in the sun, turning to dry both sides.

      Sand your wood pieces (optional)

      Wearing a mask and goggles, sand to your taste your wood pieces.

      This could just be cleaning up the edges to prevent splinters, to using coarse sandpaper and fine sandpaper until it is smooth to the touch. If you are planning on painting your Free Stand, more sanding is recommended to help with paint adhesion. It is also recommended if you will be putting perishable food like produce directly in contact with the pallet and are unsure of the pallet’s prior use and possible contamination. You can also just sand the shelving section of the stand.

      Scrub with a cleaning solution

      In a bucket, make a cleaning solution:

      • Combine five parts water to one part dish detergent OR
      • Combine one part detergent, ten parts bleach and twenty parts water. Use bleach solution if you suspect mold or mildew.

      NOTE: Do not combine bleach with any products that contain ammonia. If using bleach, wear safety goggles and a face mask.

      Use a scrub brush to scrub all the wood with the solution. Then rinse the wood with a garden hose or power washer. Wash the wood a second time with the cleaning solution, rinse it a final time, then leave it in the sun until it’s dry, turning to dry both sides.

      Prime your wood (optional)

      Paint your wood with primer for exterior use, paint over cardboard to prevent painting the ground surface. Let dry required time, turn over and paint other side and sides of the wood pieces, then let dry. Paint in an area with open ventilation, wearing a mask and old clothes is recommended.

      Paint top coat of your wood (optional)

      Paint your wood with your chosen exterior paints, paint over cardboard to prevent painting the ground surface. Let dry required time, turn over and paint other side and sides of the wood pieces, then let dry. Paint in an area with open ventilation, wearing a mask and old clothes is recommended. Do as many coats as you want or is recommended for the paint.

      Seal wood (optional)

      Seal the wood with your desired outdoor sealant, such as polyurethane.

      Step 7: Make the Legs

      Take the 8 runner boards that are 1 1/4″ x 3 3/8 x 48″.

      For the longer legs, overlap two runner pieces so that their total length should be 72″ overlapped.

      Have the thicker parts of the runner boards at the top of the legs face inward toward the shelf of the stand, and the bottom of the legs the thicker part of the runner boards should face outward from the shelf of the stand. (This orientation is important for fitting the pallet shelf in, but we seem to mess it up every time, lol)

      Screw these together with the 1 3/4″ screws in a triangle pattern at the top and the bottom of the overlapping area of the boards.

      Screw these together with the 1 3/4″ screws in a triangle pattern at the top and the bottom of the overlapping area of the boards.

      Make 2 of these, these are your taller legs.

      For the shorter legs, overlap two runner pieces so that their total length should be 5' overlapped so. Screw these together as directed for the longer legs, make two of these for the shorter legs.

      Have the thicker parts of the runner boards at the top of the legs face inward toward the shelf of the stand, and the bottom of the legs the thicker part of the runner boards should face outward from the shelf of the stand.

      Step 8: Make the Side Walls

      Lay down out your leg pieces for the sides of the stand and then the horizontal boards for the bottom sides over them. Make sure the tops of the legs point inwards to where the shelf will be, and the bottom of the legs point outward from the shelf. See photos.

      Position the horizontal side bottom boards about 6"-10″ up, so that the coolers can be easily taken out and put in for cleaning and will be near the cooler handles for securing with a bike lock.

      Check that they are level with a free level a app on your phone, pre-drill your holes and then screw them together.

      NOTE: We pre-drilled through both side board, leg, and front board all together with an extended drill bit, then screwed them together with 3 1/8″ screws. However…you don’t have to do this! (we just wanted less holes/screws).

      Lesson learned: It’s easier to make the side walls and attach them to the pallet on the ground then to make the frame and then attach the pallet shelf to it, in our experience.

      Step 9: Attach Wall Frames to the Pallet Shelf

      The next step is to get the pallet shelf attached to the frame.

      It is unwieldy and heavy, so we set it on its side for this step.

      Place one of the side walls over the upright side of the shelf, someone will need to hold it. Fit it where the runner leg boards overlap, but where the skid sections (the notches) are. This allows you to drill through one board and not two to secure the pallet.

      Here is a close up of the lower portion of the shelf. Screw in with 3 1/4" screws as shown here, predrill to prevent wood splintering. Notice the screws are offset from one another (not a straight line) this matches the angle of the shelf.

      Flip the pallet and wall over and attach the other wall.

      Stand the Stand up, and secure the lower back horizontal deckboard with the 1 1/4" screws (longer deck boards the same length as the runner board of the pallet shelf) measuring 1″ x 3 3/4″ x 44″, one on the back of the stand near the bottom at about 6-10" above the ground.

      Attach a longer deck board for the front bottom horizontal board, about 6-10" above the ground. Should be 48"-50" for this size pallet shelf (4-8" longer than the runner board of the shelf) OR you can over lap two shorter deck boards for this.

      Lesson learned: It's better to distribute the weight across multiple screws/holes/points.
      You can attach the side board to the leg just above where the front board is attached and be just fine and continue using the 1 1/4″ screws.

      Step 10: Secure Top Portion of the Frame

      Start with the sides of the upper portion of the frame. Screw in a 1/2″ x 3 3/8″ x 40″ (shorter Deck boards) with 1 1/4" screws at an angle so the roofing can extend off the back without running into the frame.

      Secure the front portion of the side of the upper frame at an angle that will allow the roofing to extend without running into the frame.

      Attach a longer deck board 1″ x 3 3/4″ x 44″ (longer Deck boards) for the front upper horizontal board and another one for the back upper horizontal board of the frame with the 1 1/4" screws.

      Attach a 1″ x 3 3/4″ x 44″ (same length as runner board of shelf size) deck board with 1 1/4" screws to the top to support the steel roofing and provide a point to secure roofing (see photo above). You will want a ladder, and to secure it down through the front and back deck boards. Measure first so that it is in the center of the frame.

      Step 11: Attach Steel Roofing

      Attach 2 steel panels (8′ x 38″ that is cut in half) to the roof support board. You will need a ladder. The rough cut edges should face the backside.

      Overlap the roofing by one channel section, the roofing will overhang on all sides, try to place it so that it is centered over the frame, but with more overhand over the front to prevent precipitation from going in the open side of the free stand (it still will a bit sadly tho).

      Attach with 1/4 Hex washer head Pole Barn Screws #12 x 3/4" to the roof support board. Start at the back and work your way to the front, placing screws every six inches.

      Do the same into the top side deck boards of the frame.

      Put duck tape on the back rough cut edge of the steel panels, wrapping it over the edges, so no one gets a head wound!

      Step 12: Cut and Attach the Plastic Sides

      First you need to size the plastic sheet to your free stand sides. Measure the back open area above the shelf. Draw those measurements on the plastic sheet, then score over those measurements with a box cutter. We use a 2x4 or piece of pallet wood then and carefully bend the plastic along the scored line and the board until it snaps off where the scoring was made.

      For the sides, have one person hold up the plastic sheet against the side, the other can trace along the outline of where it lines up with the frame and underneath the shelving. Do this for both sides. Then score and snap off as above.

      Attach the plastic sides to the open sections of the stand above the pallet shelf with the 1/4 Hex washer head Pole Barn Screws #12 x 3/4". First, have on person hold in place, the other pre-drill and then drill a few
      holes to keep it in place. Then secure in more places, but leave the bottom unsecured for wind to be able to move through. Pre-drill the holes in the plastic panel, it will crack if you do not.

      Cover the two sides and back side.

      Lessons Learned: we used painters drop canvas before for this, but mold appeared after a few months. So we are trying out this recycled plastic panel now, heavier duty tarps can work as well, but you will want to hem the cut seam to prevent fraying.

      Step 13: Place Your Stand!

      Place your stand somewhere flat with good foot traffic and road side parking, under a tree provides shade, if you can pointed north or east to reduce sun exposure on items (and the property owners permission). Right off a sidewalk or driveway (or on a driveway) works best so you get let foot traffic on grass and it gets muddy. If you cannot do that, then get mulch for in front of the stand.

      The Stand is quite heavy, we recommend building it on site where it will be located long-term. Otherwise you will want to use a truck and multiple hands to move this beast. If you are moving the Stand to a location separate from where its built, we recommend attaching the plastic sides and roofing when you place it in its new home, and transport it without those attached.

      Step 14: Add Extras

      Now you can add fun additions to the Stand, like coolers (2 fit well), a bike lock to secure them, signage on the stand, a trash can and/or compost container, hooks for masks/bags. A dowel for folks to hang clothes. It’s up to you!

      Here’s our Free Stand one month later: 2 coolers, a trash can, hooks for hanging bags/masks, chalk for people to write on/decorate it.

      Flyer/contact your neighbors and local food businesses to tell folks about it, and/or start a social media group/page etc for it to generate local knowledge and use of it!

      If you end up making a Free Stand for you neighborhood, please share with me here in the comments!

      Step 15: Safety, Sanitation, Guidelines

      According to a 2015 article in NWPCA’s Pallet Central magazine, “The good news is there is no documented evidence of a wood pallet ever being the cause of a food borne illness or the source of a contaminated shipment of produce.”

      With food packaging, there is no direct contact between pallet and food, and, “As long as the pallet is clean and dry the potential for a food safety issue coming from a pallet is not a concern.”

      What about direct contact? According to The Balance’s article Are Wood Pallets Safe for Transporting Food, “Recent research supports that wood is safe for direct food contact.”

      However, that does not mean wood pallets can’t become contaminated. To ensure pallets used for food transportation are safe, there are regulations such as the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act, and more recently, the FDA’s Final Rule on Sanitary Transportation of Human and Animal Food.

      FDA’s Sanitary Transportation Final Rule

      According to Pallet Central’s article FDA’s Sanitary Transportation for Pallets, under the Final Rule, “Pallet suppliers have an obligation to ensure that pallets are designed and maintained so that they are suitable and adequately cleanable for their intended use, in order to prevent food from becoming adulterated.”

      How companies meet that requirement is up to them, and may “develop their own procedures for the care and maintenance of pallets.”

      It is important to maintain necessary conditions to ensure your pallets remain safe:

      • Store properly to prevent pests or contamination
      • Handle and clean properly
      • Check for protruding nails, splinters, etc. that could potentially puncture food packaging

      But, we are sourcing our pallets for free, so we don’t have that “guarantee” that companies are caring for, properly storing, and maintaining their pallets.

      So, what are our options?

      • For the shelving section of the stand, have it used for only non-perishable, packaged/sealed food and non-food items.
      • Source a food safe pallet from a trusted source, like a grocery store, then I would consider it safe to use for perishable food that has direct contact.
      • Or, sand, paint and seal the shelving section of the pallet to create a non-permeable barrier.
      • Put perishable food in coolers with ice packs (except in winter, don't need ice packs then!) below the Free Stand shelves.

      Have another idea?

      Suggest it in the comments!

      Safety of Canned Goods Outside

      Canned goods that remain in temperatures above 70 degrees F for extended periods are prone to loss of nutrients and overall food quality. Once the temperatures reach 100 degrees F or more, the safety of the food stored in the cans comes into question. Prolonged storage in high temperatures causes foods to react with the inside of the cans. Eventually, the cans may become corroded and the food may become unsafe to eat.

      In the winter, cans and glass containers can freeze at temperatures below freezing. Glass can shatter, cans can bulge, and the contents can be compromised. You can use the coolers (without ice packs) to keep items warmer in the cold winter months.

      Signs of Spoilage:

      Look for signs of damage in cans stored in excessive temperatures. Once a can is damaged, spoilage is sure to follow. Bulging or loose lids, for example, are a sign of spoilage. Some cans will actually begin to leak and weaken along the seams. Bad odors emitting from the can are also a sign that the food inside is spoiled and should not be eaten.

      Safety/Operating Recommended Guidelines

      Build a working group to maintain the Free Stand and help source donations, here are some Free Stand Recommended Guidelines. These include some recommended safety and cleanliness guidelines for hosts and stewards. You only need two people to get started!

      Step 16: Let People Know About Your Free Stand

      Info from Little Free Pantry

      How do I let people know about my free stand?

      People will find it, even if you do nothing, but there are a few things you can do to help raise awareness.

      Locate your free stand where people will notice it, then ask friends/neighbors to co-steward.

      Speaking of friends… Hundreds of stewards use social media accounts dedicated to their particular mini pantry/ies to communicate about them—current status/needs, requests, thank you notes.

      Before launch, you can create a Free Stand Pilot Facebook page, instagram account and/or Facebook group. On launch day, share the page/group/account and asked our “friends” if they’d like and share it/join it, as well.

      Coordinating the stand's launch and the facebook page/group/instagram account generated excitement and givers! Prioritize the platform/s you already use.

      Don’t do social media? You can send a press release to your local newspaper or post flyers like this one around your neighborhood.

      Step 17: ​Spread the Free Stands

      Set up a Facebook group and/or Discord server (or other social media) to show what is “in stock” at the Free Stand, and what groups/organizations/businesses are donating to it. Individuals can post what they donate to the Stand there to help with visibility so local neighbors know what is available.

      Get others to signup and organize working groups to make and steward more Free Stands, here is a Google Example Free Food Stand Signup Form you can use/copy and alter for your use.

      Give flyers to your neighbors and local businesses/organizations/groups etc to solicit donations and spread the word: Example Free Stand Flyer