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Eric's Heroes: 'The Free Little Pantry', making sure kids don't go hungry

Radonna Nelson inside her home's pantry (KOMO Photo)

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- Some things you don't forget. Some things stick. like a scar. High on the list is the dull ache of an empty belly.

"I grew up hungry," said Radonna Nelson. "I was that kid who went to bed hungry a lot... I have a real soft spot for kids, and when I think of them going to bed hungry, it, it kills me."

These days, Radonna likes to shop for food, but it's not all for her.

"I find so many good deals on clearance... and it helps me stock up," she says.

She looks for bargains and buys things in large quantities. She shops so much that the checkers at the Grocery Outlet all know her by name.

She lives in Kirkland and she is not rich -- not even close. But she feels like she's making a difference in the world... which is, perhaps, a form of wealth.

A year and a half ago, she filled up a box with diapers, ketchup, and some tuna, among other items, and set it next to the road.

"And I carried it out there and set in on the bench and left it," she said.

Nothing happened.

But then word spread... and people started taking what was in the box.

And Radonna felt something.

"It makes me feel like I am trying to do what I think I was put here to do," she says, "which is help people."

So she built a pantry onto the side of her house, and stocks it full of groceries -- all kinds of things.

"I always try to have milk, and eggs, and butter," she said.

There's cereal, and vegetables, and fruit, canned goods, soup -- the things people need to eat.

She calls it, "the free little pantry."

"This I can make a difference," she said. "I can come and put food out here and watch people cry and be so grateful because that night they're not going to have to wonder where their food is going to come from."

Some people drop off food too...and Radonna accepts donations.

"It makes a different kind of dinner versus just having spaghetti over and over," said one woman who was using the pantry. "So this is lifechanging. She's absolutely fantastic and this isn't just a food bank, it's helping people get into their lives and get into a better situation."

Radonna calls them "her clients" -- she says they are students, single mothers, the working poor, families... and yes, the homeless.

Two women who stopped by loaded their groceries, and one of them said as Radonna walked by: "I haven't had milk for weeks."

The woman sounded like a kid at Christmas, and then they came back to offer their gratitude.

"The whole of you is beautiful and I really appreciate it," the woman said.

Radonna says she spends about $1,500 a month on filling the pantry. She leaves the door open from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., and people just stop by and fill up their bags.

"The honor system works," she said. "They take what they need and they leave what they don't."

Kaya Allyn has two kids and a husband. She has a job, but getting by is difficult.

"The formula --I came here specifically, because I can't pay $25 on formula today," Allyn said. "So, I got that and it will last us until when I get paid next."

The scar of hunger will be with Rodanna for the rest of her time on Earth. There's nothing to be done about that. But she has created a response to it -- a little lifeline built onto the side of a house in Kirkland that says no child should know the dull ache of an empty belly.

Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to heroes@komonews.com.

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