Little Free Libraries Turning Into Little Free Pantries Amid COVID-19

Cassie Gutman

Staff Writer

Cassie Gutman is happiest when surrounded by books and dogs. Originally from a small, funny-named town near Louisville, Kentucky, she now edits words for a living near Chicago and would like to be paid in ice cream. You can find her on Instagram @happybooklovers or on Twitter @cassiepgutman.

We’re huge fans of Little Free Libraries at Book Riot—tiny, streetside boxes where people can “take a book, leave a book.” They can be in front of houses or schools, or inside parks or other public places.

During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes small things like Little Free Libraries can be forgotten amid the panic and mayhem. But the LFL community, owners, and patrons have identified an incredible way to give back to their neighbors and communities during uncertain times by turning their normal book-trading depots into small food pantries.

Jessica McClard was ahead of the trend, starting her own pantry in her home state of Arkansas in 2016. “I really hoped that the Little Free Library concept was familiar enough with folks that people would know what to do with it,” McClard told CNN. “[I hoped] it would be something that would get duplicated rather quickly. And that’s what happened.”

Now, with COVID-19 causing grocery items, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper shortages, some people are looking to give out rather than hoard.

Small pantries are not entirely new—Little Free Pantries have been popping up since 2016. But the book community has now joined in to spread the kindness.

Even Little Free Library’s executive director Greig Metzger is excited by the converted libraries and offers up helpful tips for converting the book boxes to pantries or ways to help communities if you don’t have an LFL in your neighborhood.

“Are there ways you can use your Little Free Library not only as a distribution point, but as a collection point?” Metzger wrote in a blog post on March 19. “Food shelves everywhere are facing increased demand. […] Perhaps use your Little Free Library to host a food drive to help that local food shelf.”

One lovely library has set up help lines for those who can give and those who need to place requests and offer services, in addition to stocking their library with regular items. A notebook with requests is inside, and the owner offers mailbox numbers and ways to get in contact if either of the cards applies to patrons.

Some owners are getting even more creative in how to keep themselves and neighbors safe while sharing kindness and creativity. Rather than closing their Little Free Library entirely, one owner decided to keep sharing books—safely.

The Georgia-based Little Free Library is passing out books that have been sanitized and carefully wrapped, along with some games and certificates for local restaurants to support their community.

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Five years ago, when I was the new sponsorship director for the local elementary school foundation, I cold-called Dave Cappotto with Siracusa’s Pizza. He immediately offered to support the school and over those five years has donated thousands of dollars in product (delicious pizza 🍕) to the school to help fuel fundraising efforts. Local friends: Siracusa’s is open for take out and delivery, if you’re looking to get food from community restaurants. Enjoy this gift certificate for $25, a@d don’t forget to tip! … #siracusaspizzasmyrna @nesbraves #backthejack @riverviewlanding @eddyrvl #riverviewlanding #eddyrvl #littlefreelibrary #bookstagram #riverviewlife #readingbytheriver #iheartsmyrna #freelibrary #takeabookleaveabook @kristenramseyart

A post shared by Riverview Landing's LFL (@littlefreelibrary_rvl) on

One Little Free Library turned into a billboard for social distancing, encouraging patrons to learn a new craft and stay isolated to prevent spreading the virus.

The sign reads: “Take me and social distance like a champ.” Knitting is the perfect pastime, and this library owner agrees.

No matter what the libraries are stocked with, the “take one, leave one” motto of Little Free Library is pushing giving back to the community to a whole new level.