Little Free Libraries — the cute book exchange boxes on thousands of front yards and street corners — are being turned into sharing boxes filled with toilet paper, food and comfort items during the coronavirus pandemic.
Folks at the free book exchange movement, which started in Wisconsin, have gotten so many messages about the repurposing of Little Free Libraries, they devised a new map with caring box locations throughout the U.S. as well as a few foreign countries.
Even in a time of social distancing, kindness cannot be quarantined.
“Generosity and caring for each other are for the common good. That’s really at the heart of the Little Free Library Network,” said Margret Aldrich, head of media and programming for Hudson-based Little Free Library.
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On the new map, each sharing box location pin includes the address, city and state and often a note about what is being offered.
Little Free Libraries are in every state and 108 countries. Because there are so many in pretty much every part of the world, it was simple to repurpose them during the pandemic.
“There was already this infrastructure of people who were already sharing and looking out for each other in their communities,” Aldrich said. “So it was very easy to transform them into boxes sharing more than books.”
Heather Nelson’s box in the 300 block of Capitol Drive in Pewaukee is on the map. She installed it about five years ago in front of her house built in 1862, painted bright blue with the same color chairs in front for anyone who wants to sit a spell and read.
About a year ago, she began sharing plants along with books in her library, including hostas, lilies and phlox.
“When everything happened with COVID it was a natural progression to put other things out as well,” Nelson said.
Initially, she put rolls of toilet paper and paper towels in her library. But when they became more readily available, she shifted to food including macaroni and cheese, granola bars, lentils, juice boxes and pasta. Someone placed 10 handmade potholders in the box. On a recent day, only one potholder was left.
Nelson continues to keep books in her library — a few mysteries and a John Grisham paperback were inside recently — because public and school libraries have closed.
Tracy Reep Lay’s library is on South Courtland Circle in Pewaukee.
She took out the books from the Little Free Library her husband built several years ago to stock it with toilet paper, Kleenex, cleaning supplies, unopened thermometers, toothpaste, bars of soap, decks of playing cards, kids’ games, bags of pasta and jars of spaghetti sauce.
“When people were saying think of ways to help each other, I decided I would put a lot of extra things I had in there. I had bought them over the last six months because I had coupons, before I even knew the pandemic was happening,” said Reep Lay.
More than 100,000 have been created
The Little Free Library nonprofit started in Hudson when Todd Bol built the first one out of scrap lumber in the shape of a one-room schoolhouse. He filled it with books and placed it at the end of his driveway. It was an ingenious idea: Encourage people to create boxes in a variety of shapes and decorations, load them with books and attach a small sign that says “Take a Book, Leave a Book.”
Then sit back and watch neighbors and strangers exchange books.
Not all boxes are registered with the Little Free Library organization. Bol, who died of cancer in 2018, wanted Little Free Libraries to number one more than those built by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie — 2,510. But that number was surpassed within months of the founding of the nonprofit in 2012.
And last month, the 100,000th Little Free Library was unveiled in Houston.
Last year, Bol’s brother Tony started Share With Others, a business that promotes and expands front yard sharing through construction and sales of boxes to share books, food, hygiene items, seeds, dog treats, poetry and other things.
Share With Others is giving away temporary oval cling-on “Little Free Pantry: Kindness Beyond Virus” decals to anyone who requests one to place on their box to let others know it holds items needed during the pandemic.
More than 350 free decals have been sent to caring box stewards, said Tony Bol, who has boxes in Hudson and Stillwater, Minnesota, stocked with diapers in various sizes and food for infants.
“In both places, neighbors didn’t ask me, they started putting essentials in them. I thought, well, let’s give people a unified message of hope. My wife and I decided to print 1,000 decals and send them out to anyone who wants them,” Tony Bol said.
Little Free Library has issued best practices for stewards during the pandemic — washing hands before and after visiting a library box and keeping social distancing in mind.
Mark Lampereur built four libraries and placed them at the homes of his mother, sister and girlfriend plus one at his parents’ cottage last Father’s Day weekend. Because he lives in Green Bay he naturally painted them in Packer colors.
After coronavirus cases began popping up in Wisconsin, Lampereur noticed some stewards were placing baby formula and food in their libraries.
“I thought ‘Oh, that’s a great idea,’ ” said Lampereur. He and his girlfriend Carleen Lawrynk began making face masks on sewing machines, placing them in plastic bags and putting them in their libraries.
One day he put half a dozen in one of his boxes on Green Bay’s west side and they were gone within four hours.
“Anything people can do to help each other. That’s part of the reason we started the library for our neighbors,” said Lampereur.
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