You know those "little free libraries" you see when you're on a walk? Take a book. Leave a book.
In 2013, Kaitlin Connelly built three of them near her home in Auburn, Alabama, for her Girl Scout Silver Award project with the help of her mom, and troop leader, Cora.
Now, home to complete the remainder of her semester studying wildlife biology at Texas State online because of COVID-19, Kaitlin and Cora converted one of the little free libraries into a little free food pantry. Take an item. Leave an item.
The rules are simple: “This box is open 24/7. It operates on the honor system. If you need a lot, take a lot. If you don’t, please leave food for those who do.”
The free pantry is in front of the Post Office in Loachapoka, Alabama, about a mile up the road from the Connelly’s home. Loachapoka is a low-income area where Kaitlin says more than 90 percent of the students in the school system are on free or reduced-price lunch.
“There have been a lot of issues with an already very food-insecure area becoming even more food-insecure,” Kaitlin said. “We’re trying to do our part.”
The community is, too, by setting up food drives, food banks and even a drive-thru pick-up system for free sack lunches since students were ordered to stay home.
The thought isn't limited to Alabama. Little free libraries around the country have been switched to free pantries by kind-hearted people who had the same thought as Kaitlin and Cora. Posts on social media show them in Chicago, Roesland Park, Kansas, and Bloomington, Indiana, among others. All examples of how people are seeking to help others in these challenging times.
And in Loachapoka, it’s working.
“We go check it every afternoon, and every day the food is completely different,” Kaitlin said. “So people are taking most everything out of it and somebody is coming back and refilling it.”
Kaitlin and Cora fully stocked the pantry for the first time on March 24. Since then, they’ve only added a few items, the rest have been provided by others.
“The community has really come together,” Kaitlin said. “There’s a lot of people really looking out for each other.”