(Posted Dec. 15, 2022)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
Mount Sterling is now home to a small red box equipped to make a significant impact on residents’ lives.
On Dec. 10, more than a dozen community advocates gathered on Water Street to celebrate the grand opening of the region’s first Little Free Library Pantry. Located across from the main entrance to Mount Sterling Public Library, the structure is stocked with reading materials and non-perishable food items free for the taking.
“We are so excited to bring this Little Free Library Pantry to Mount Sterling,” said Melissa Reece, the village resident who spearheaded the project. “We hope this kickstarts a movement where we will see these pop up all throughout our community and then spread out into our neighboring communities, as well.”
Reece has been a fan of the Little Free Library movement, minus the pantry portion, ever since she heard about it more than a decade ago. The concept is simple: A box on a pole is installed on property accessible to the public. The installer puts books in the box to get things started. The public is then welcome to take books or leave books to share with others.
As an avid reader, Mount Sterling Public Library employee, and Friends of the Library volunteer, Reece said she likes seeing reading materials made readily available to everyone in the community.
“The Little Free Library has always been such a great way to make books accessible to those who may not have a public library within walking distance, and especially in those areas who do not have a library within their community at all,” she said.
Reece thought having a Little Free Library in Mount Sterling–open 24 hours a day, year-round–would be a nice complement to the local library, but she hoped another fan of the movement would take the initiative to build the box and oversee its operation.
Then came the pandemic.
Distressed by the news of mass layoffs, school closures, and widespread food and essential goods shortages, Reece knew it was time to act–and not just by providing free reading material to people of all ages but also free grocery items.
“I was spiraling and had to do something for our community,” she said.
With help from her fellow Friends of the Library volunteers, Reece spread the word about her idea. She received plenty of positive feedback, but some residents worried the Little Free Library would create competition with the food pantry at the Mount Sterling Community Center.
“That was never our intention,” Reece explained. “Our goal was, and is, to just give free access to food for anybody–the elderly, families, individuals who maybe can’t quite cover their grocery bills because they don’t have much money left after they pay the rest of their bills.
“There are a lot of people out there in this community who cannot access local pantries because they don’t meet federal eligibility guidelines but are still struggling to put food on their tables. This would just be a way to supplement some of that without charge.”
Creation of the Little Free Library Pantry took much longer than Reece and the Friends of the Library projected, but they received the go-ahead from the library board earlier this year to build the hybrid library/food pantry.
“We were ecstatic to receive the news,” said Angela McFarland, part of the group that brought the project to fruition. “The creation of this Little Free Library Pantry will go a long way toward providing nourishment for the minds and bodies of the residents in our community.”
McFarland’s husband, Steve Chambers, who serves as director of the Mount Sterling Community Museum, built the multi-shelved red box. It has an ample amount of space for books and food. Grocery items outweigh books right now to meet current community needs.
Eventually, the Little Free Library Pantry committee plans to build more library pantries and include personal hygiene items and possibly small articles of clothing, like socks.
“We have a lot of ideas whirling around in our heads right now,” McFarland said.
The Little Free Library Pantry committee consists of five members: Carrie Alkire, Holly Drake, McFarland, Reece and Charlie Morrison. Morrison is president and CEO of MCR Medical Supply. The company’s “fun committee” held a book and food drive to stock of the site on Water Street.
The committee has set a schedule to regularly check the materials in the Little Free Library Pantry to make sure all of the reading materials are appropriate and the food is not expired or spoiled.
Residents are encouraged to donate materials to the Little Free Library Pantry just as much as they are encouraged to take items from it.
“Our Little Free Library Pantry’s motto is: ‘Take what you need, leave what you can,’” Reece said. “And if you can’t leave anything at all, that is just fine with us.”
Although Mount Sterling Public Library is not involved in the oversight of the Little Free Library Pantry, the committee will use the library’s social media pages to post updates on donation drives and other activities.
The first donation drive is set for 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Dec. 17 at the library. Donation drop-off days will otherwise be held on the fourth Saturday of each month beginning Jan. 28. The committee asks that residents not leave their donations at the library except on those designated days. Also, they cannot accept food in glass jars.
Suggested donation items will be listed on the side of the Little Free Library Pantry. For more information, contact Melissa Reece at (614) 315-7939.