Neighbors living in the 500 block of South Kenilworth Avenue in Oak Park have converted their Little Free Library into a food and supplies depository to help those in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

“It’s small, but it’s got canned goods and hand sanitizer and some wipes,” said Melinda Wright, the steward of the little library-turned-pantry and on whose property it sits.

Like countless others, households on Wright’s block are feeling the strain of COVID-19, as the virus continues to wreak havoc on the world’s economy and wellbeing.

“We’ve got a mixed group of people on our block. We’ve got two physicians, one psychologist, and we’ve got people that work in the food industry that have lost their jobs and are potentially struggling to make ends meet right now,” Wright said. 

Elderly and immunocompromised people also live on the block; neighbors have offered to pick up groceries and prescriptions for them. 

“Our block has really come together,” Wright said.

The Little Free Library non-profit organization encourages book sharing in communities through installing registered outdoor bookcases. Wright’s father-in-law built their neighborhood’s Little Free Library bookcase, making it slightly larger than most. One side still holds books, while the other has such COVID-19 commodities as anti-bacterial cleaning products, rice and cans of beans.

“Anybody can donate, and anybody can take,” Wright said.

One of Wright’s neighbors suggested turning the bookcase into a multi-use stockpile of both provisions and literature. 

“Five minutes after I got off the phone, I walked out and I took everything out, I moved everything to one side, and then we sent a block email out and to let everyone know,” Wright said.

Now, with support from the neighborhood, the pantry is loaded up with pantry standards now being coveted like treasure. People can take what they need without having to draw attention to themselves or their circumstances. 

“It’s a way for our block at least to help people and to do it in a way that no one has to know who takes anything out of the pantry,” Wright said.

Wright hopes that more neighborhoods will join in and do something creative together to benefit the community and help others, as her block has.

“There are so many little free libraries in our community,” she said. “Maybe it’s an idea for other blocks to do this because you just never know who on your block is in need or who’s lost their job because of this. You never know who’s struggling.”

The number of people readily willing to help others has made experiencing the pandemic more manageable for Wright and her family.

 “It’s been it’s been a bright spot in a very trying time.” 

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