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From novels to noodles: Little Free Libraries becoming pantries during COVID-19 crisis

An online map is tracking Little Free Libraries whose owners are stocking their kiosks with food, toys, puzzles, household items, and masks.

“The COVID-19 crisis is driving more of our neighbors into food insecurity and putting a strain on food banks to provide more meals,” wrote Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America, in an April 6 statement.

“Never has the charitable food system faced such tremendous challenges, and we need all the resources we can get to help our neighbors during this terrible time.”

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The day after Babineaux-Fontenot sounded the alarm, the Hudson, Wisconsin-based Little Free Library nonprofit launched an online map that tracks Little Free Libraries across the country whose owners have heeded the call by stocking their kiosks with food, toys, puzzles, household items, and masks.

Robyn Floyd with her Little Free Library in Rochester.
Photo provided
Robyn Floyd with her Little Free Library in Rochester.

“Little Free Library stewards converting their libraries into broader sharing boxes are showing the better side of humanity in a deeply challenging time,” said Little Free Library Executive Director Greig Metzger in a statement. “As the media picked up stories about them, we realized there were many more potentially going unnoticed. We decided to help our stewards spread the word by giving them an online resource to share their activity. We welcome anyone that would like to share, whether they have a registered library with us or not, to sign up.”

“Our Little Free Library was one of the first to be registered in Rochester,” Robyn Floyd told MinnPost in an email. “We’ve gifted each of our three daughters and their families plus other extended family members with homemade Little Free Libraries. Being retired teachers, we value the love of reading, but realize now we can better meet the needs of our neighbors by turning the library into a pantry and face mask display.”

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The Food Box at Excelsior United Methodist Church in south Minneapolis.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
The Food Box at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in south Minneapolis.

“We’ve had our Little Free Library ‘Sofie’s Place’ since last summer,” wrote Mai Nhia Xiong-Cha via email from her home in Apple Valley. “It is named after our white German shepherd dog Sofie, who died last summer at age 15.  My husband and I are both children of refugees and when we were kids, we could never get enough books to read. So we thought we could pay it forward in our neighborhood by building our own library. The whole neighborhood uses it, and it’s been so fun to see all the books come and go!

Mai Nhia Xiong-Chan’s family and their Little Free Library in Apple Valley.
Photo provided
Mai Nhia Xiong-Chan’s family and their Little Free Library in Apple Valley.

“About four weeks ago we decided to also convert our LFL to a pantry as well. Even though we are in a relatively low need neighborhood (visually anyways) we know there are those among us who can always use support. I also posted widely on neighboring Facebook pages so folks from all over could participate with our LFL as well. We’ve been stocking it and we’ve had neighbors and other good Samaritans stocking it, too, just like before with the books. It’s anonymous, no questions asked. I have been out to check on it about every other day and can see that food has been taken and replenished with different items almost every day. We will keep doing this as long as we need to!”

“With everything happening with COVID-19, I knew that people needed this now,” Denise Foote told the Sun Sailor, about the motivation behind turning the Little Free Library at Excelsior United Methodist Church into a Little Free Pantry.

“This is an uncertain time. I think being able to provide something to anyone is worth it,” Woodbury’s Shelly Anderson told CNN, about her Little Free Pantry at the Brookview Elementary School.

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One man has taken to the Little Free Library to provide respite to folks struggling with drug addiction.

Randy Anderson and Denise La Mere-Anderson
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Randy Anderson and Denise La Mere-Anderson

“I’m 15 years in recovery, and I’ve always said naloxone is a life-saving medication,” said Randy Anderson, of Bold North Recovery and Consulting and vice president of the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition. “So when the COVID-19 pandemic started, now I’m an extrovert so sitting at home is like the worst nightmare for me. I’m just real passionate about criminal justice reform and recovery and treatment reform and all that stuff. So when it happened I just knew that isolation is the biggest enemy of recovery and especially early recovery.

“I started getting some communications from people saying that they’ve heard of people overdosing and can they get some [naloxone] kits? But we had this strange dilemma where I really didn’t want to interact with people on a face-to-face level. Four or five years ago I had this Little Free Library built for my wife [Denise La Mere-Anderson] for her birthday present. She puts out the books and albums, and it’s a great way for people who want to come get kits from my house. I just throw them on the library they can come pick them up. March 17 was the first time I did that and I think I’ve done it, four or five times since. I just tell them the kit will be on the Little Free Library, and they come by and grab ’em.”

Randy Anderson and Denise La Mere-Anderson's Little Free Library in Golden Valley.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Randy Anderson and Denise La Mere-Anderson's Little Free Library in Golden Valley.