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During the pandemic, some Little Free Libraries are filled with food instead of books

Volunteer Angela Chan has stocked her Little Free Library in Medford with food and other essentials during the pandemic.Angela Chan

Little Free Libraries have become a mini-phenomenon in the past decade, as the book-sharing locations — typically, a small cabinet mounted on a short pole — have been installed in 108 countries and 50 states. In Massachusetts alone, there are approximately 800 registered LFLs tucked in volunteers’ yards, posted just off a bike path, or secured in front of schools.

But in our new COVID-19 world, some locations are offering more than free literature. Many Little Free Libraries have been converted into “Sharing Boxes,” or repositories for food and other essentials. The nonprofit, which has charted all its locations, has created an additional Sharing-Box map for the ones now stocking other essentials.

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“I think right now we need food more than books,” said Angela Chan, a Little Free Library volunteer in Medford. Chan, who belongs to a Facebook group for library stewards, saw photos of people in other states creating Sharing Boxes, and after some reservation soon followed suit.

“I was nervous about converting [my library],” she explained, citing criticism around spreading germs by even keeping the box open. The organization directs stewards to regularly disinfect their boxes and suggests closing them if their neighborhood becomes a coronavirus hot spot. “There was a lot of debate. But [everyone] has responded so positively. The main thing is the community is coming together.”

Chan, who fills her box with dried or canned food, toiletries, toilet paper, and “anything that can last outside,” has noticed that goods are moving every day. “Things are definitely coming and going,” she said, particularly on the weekends.

The value of these pop-up food pantries is not lost on Greig Metzger, the nonprofit’s executive director who once oversaw a regional shelter in Minnesota. “For people who have never had to confront [food insecurity],” he said, “going to a food shelter is a very scary thing.” Seeing the libraries as tiny displays of humanity makes his heart swell. “You recognize that people care and are trying to help as best they can.”

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