Library Pantries Feed Communities!

United States of America

By the CSLP Child & Community Well-Being Committee and participating libraries

In July 2020, the Collaborative Summer Library Program asked readers to submit a photo if they host a Little Free Pantry or have a pantry shelf in the libraryCheck out the gallery of library pantries. You will visit libraries in Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin that are feeding their communities in creative and caring ways.

Many libraries participate in the Summer Food Service Program or provide afterschool snacks. Hosting a Little Free Pantry or pantry shelf is another way that libraries can increase their capacity to meet community needs. Food distribution is certainly a non-traditional library service, yet libraries and food are a great fit. Everyone is welcome at the library, and no one pays admission or is expected to buy anything. The library has always given stuff out for free. There is no stigma to the library. Think about these attributes in terms of providing food to people in need. And think of what libraries gain by participating in food distribution:  we directly address hunger and support vulnerable populations, attract new user groups, increase our visibility as a community asset, and position ourselves as an important stakeholder in community well-being.

Interested in hosting a Little Free Pantry or pantry shelf at your library? It can be as simple as setting aside a space in your lobby, or other accessible area, for a shelving unit or basket. If you would like to establish a permanent outside structure, the Little Free Pantry website offers a helpful FAQ covering location, building, and stocking, and a resource page that links to plans, supply lists, publicity materials, and more.

Before you set up your pantry:

  • If appropriate, confirm with your governing authority that your plan meets building and zoning codes. You may also need approval of your library Board, and even if this is not required, it’s smart to communicate your plan to the Board, all library staff, and other stakeholders, talk through any concerns, and generate support before you get started.
  • Decide how the pantry will be stocked. Will it rely exclusively on community donations? Or will it be stocked by the library, or the Friends group, or an outside partner such as a food pantry, nonprofit organization, or school? Who will monitor the pantry for cleanliness and to ensure it is appropriately stocked?
  • Decide what items are acceptable: nonperishable food only? Produce? (community members who garden may be happy to share their surplus!) Personal toiletry products? School supplies?
  • Develop a plan for initial and ongoing publicity. The Little Free Pantry website resource page includes sample publicity items. The CSLP Libraries and Summer Food guide includes ideas and talking points for summer meals which can be adapted to support a pantry.
  • Consider inviting your community to help establish the pantry. Depending on current social distancing guidelines, you may not be able to have a group work together, but under pre- or post-pandemic circumstances, building a Little Free Pantry could be a great project for a Teen Advisory Group, a makers club, or even a book discussion group (in conjunction with reading a book on building/architecture or on food!). You may think of creative ways to involve your community and connect to library programming even with social distancing guidelines in place.

Please let us know if you establish a Little Free Pantry or pantry shelf at your library. Thank you for all the many ways you support your community!

This story shared with the permission of the Collaborative Summer Library Program. Learn more at their Libraries and Summer Food initiative.