“Take what you need, share what you can,” reads one sign taped to a local Little Free Library, now converted into a mini food bank. This is the sentiment driving people across the country to fill their mini libraries with necessary supplies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As news of fights over toilet paper and empty grocery store shelves heightens panic, people in different towns and cities have decided to share instead. Normally, Little Free Libraries (part of the Little Free Library nonprofit that promotes literacy) are built so that community members can share their favorite books.
But as citizens are advised to stay home all across the country—with some states like California ordering all of its citizens to shelter in place as of Friday—people are filling their mini libraries with nonperishable goods. Anyone in need can take food stuff like pasta sauce, peanut butter, canned soup, mac ‘n cheese, and bottled water. The only request is that people donate what (and if) they can.
my parents made their Little Free Library into a mini food shelf so that’s pretty cool :’) pic.twitter.com/u05h1Dym3b— Natalie Kissell (@natalie_kissell) March 17, 2020
This morning I stocked our free neighborhood little #library with TP. The best way to cheer yourself up, is to cheer up someone else! ❤️☀️ #PayItForward #community #freelittlelibrary #AmeriCAN #convid19 #coronavirus #freetoiletpaper #toiletpaper @LittleFreeLibra pic.twitter.com/UqIjn1fuLu— Breanna Brown (@BreannaJBrown) March 20, 2020
Little Free Library’s executive director Greig Metzger, who spent many years leading a food shelf in Minneapolis, Minn., commended people who decided to make their community’s mini library a food bank.
“Bottom line, it is wonderful to support your neighbors,” he wrote on the Little Free Library blog on Thursday. “In fact, we imagine that is one of the reasons you are a steward—to help out your neighbors and your community. If you want to add items of need to your library that you think would be helpful, that is completely up to you. We think helping one’s fellow person in this challenging time is great.”
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But Metzger also suggested library stewards and community members find ways to make an even bigger impact, if they’re able.
MMS free little library has turned into a place for food and toiletries. Please encourage families in need to access this and if you want to add to it, please do! #miltonpride #wearemilton pic.twitter.com/vGaW403rOW— Milton Middle School (@MMS_RedHawks) March 20, 2020
“As a former food shelf executive director, I would be remiss in not suggesting ways you may be able to have even a larger impact, beyond your library,” he continued. “Are there ways you can use your Little Free Library not only as a distribution point, but as a collection point? Food shelves everywhere are facing increased demand… Perhaps use your Little Free Library to host a food drive to help that local food shelf.”
Metzger also explained that food shelves are able to serve more vulnerable community members (like the elderly or handicapped). But his support for Little Free Libraries turned food banks was unwavering.
Our Free Little Library is temporarily an emergency food bank for anyone in need. Stay well. Help others. pic.twitter.com/BtbsvvHZGT— Dream Center PC (@DreamCenterPC) March 19, 2020
Seen in my Chicago neighborhood.— Ashley Hamer (@smashleyhamer) March 18, 2020
Sign says "To help our neighbors affected by the COVID-19 crisis, this Little Free Library is converted to a Little Free Pantry. Take what you need and if you can, please donate what you can spare!" pic.twitter.com/HtrUHNv9BG
“So without a doubt, feel free to use your Little Free Library as you think best. You are in your community and you understand its needs,” Metzger wrote at the end of his letter. “Just know that the need is probably much greater than we might imagine and anything more you can do will undoubtedly be welcomed by your local food shelf.”As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.