Coronavirus pandemic triggers some local little free libraries to adapt

Little free libraries are a growing phenomenon around the D.C. area, with people putting them in their front yard to foster sharing and community within their own neighborhood.

But right now, there also isn’t a lot of sharing that’s being encouraged due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, with needs to be met, people are coming up with ways — big and small — to do something for others.

Since Katina Rae Stapleton of Bowie, Maryland, is immunocompromised, she is limited by what she can do during this pandemic.

She’s still working and still getting paid, so a little brainstorming with friends led her to turn her Little Free Library into a Little Free Food Pantry.

It’s something other people are also doing with their free libraries.

Stapleton said she won’t ask you any questions and she only has one rule.

A little free library filled with food.
Some little free libraries, like this one in Bowie, Maryland, are being filled with food for those in need amid the coronavirus pandemic. (WTOP/John Domen)
Photo of a little free library in front of a house.
Food for those in need are being placed in some little free libraries, like this one in Bowie, Maryland, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (WTOP/John Domen)
SIgn posted on the front of a little free library box
The coronavirus pandemic has spurred some little free libraries, like this one in Bowie, Maryland, to now carry food for those in need. (WTOP/John Domen)
A little free library filled with food.
Photo of a little free library in front of a house.
SIgn posted on the front of a little free library box
“It’s give what you can and take what you need,” she said, before adding: “Sanitize your hands!”

Stapleton admits the concept of the pantry isn’t that different from how the free libraries function.

“Neighbors sharing with neighbors,” is how Stapleton described it.

“In this case, I’ve converted just the purpose of the little library over to a pantry but the basic idea of being able to share with my community is the same,” she said.

When the switch was made, Stapleton says she filled the box outside her home on Kinderbrook Lane about a third of the way full.

It didn’t take long for her neighbors to make sure it was jam-packed after she posted about it on the Nextdoor app.

“One person even sanitized it completely after she filled it,” Stapleton said.

“That’s something important for people to know, is that you have to treat the pantry and even the little library just like you would a grocery store,” she said. “You have to make sure you wash your hands.”

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While her pantry was filled up with various items, such as canned foods, the box is still less than the size of a normal kitchen cabinet.

That’s why Stapleton urged anyone who needs more assistance to visit local food pantries that can provide help on a larger scale.

“They are definitely not going to replace full-fledged pantries,” said Stapleton, whose box is open to anyone — but it’s meant to help carry a person over with one meal or so in a pinch.

Stapleton is also encouraging people to donate to pantries, like the one Bowie has, which are meant to reach people on a bigger scale.

“I think the larger point is, that if you really want to give back, there’s going to be lots of different ways to do it,” Stapleton said.

“It might be donating, it might be giving blood, it be making a mask,” she said. “It’s just thinking about how you can contribute to your neighbors and I think that will help us out a lot during this situation.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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