WOODBURY — For all social media has done to spread misinformation and general fervor around the current COVID-19 pandemic, it has also done a great deal of good.

One example of this is the idea to turn Little Free Libraries into makeshift food pantries. A small group of Woodbury residents, each getting the idea from social media, replaced the books in the boxes with store-bought food and personal care items.

Shelly Anderson is a member of Brookview Elementary School's Parent-Teacher Association and runs the group's Facebook page. After a friend from high school posted about the idea on Facebook, Anderson reached out to the PTA's leadership to see if it was something they could do with Brookview's Little Free Library.

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"I knew Brookview had some students that could really benefit from it," she said.

After the PTA got approval from the school's principal, Mark Drommerhausen, Anderson and her three kids, who are Brookview students, set to work picking out nonperishable food and personal care items to fill the box with. Anderson used it as a chance to teach her first, second and fifth grader about economics.

"Plus we walked up there, so it was gym," she said, laughing.

Anderson said her kids were also excited to read the books they took out of the library. They plan to return them once things quiet down a bit.

Another Little Free Library in Woodbury, located at 1132 Sunset Bay, was also transformed into a makeshift food pantry, though the owner of the library asked not to be named. Both Little Free Libraries were built by Gary Borst.

"I don't think that the virus is as scary or as big for my kids, but they loved it," Anderson said of the project. "They loved being able to do something for the people they care about."

The Brookview Elementary School PTA transformed the school's Little Free Library into a little food pantry, located at 11099 Brookview Road in Woodbury. Photo courtesy of the Brookview Elementary PTA Facebook page
The Brookview Elementary School PTA transformed the school's Little Free Library into a little food pantry, located at 11099 Brookview Road in Woodbury. Photo courtesy of the Brookview Elementary PTA Facebook page

Wendy MacLennan is a co-president of the Brookview Elementary PTA. Within minutes of seeing a separate Facebook post about the little free pantry idea, MacLennan was contacted by Anderson and they began to coordinate.

"Yesterday when we swung by, my daughter, who is in fourth grade, ran up and looked to see what was in there ... and it was full, so hopefully people are using it and utilizing it," MacLennan said Thursday.

Anderson said she and her kids checked on it once since they filled it Monday, noticing food (as well as toilet paper and paper towels) that had been taken and replaced. They planned to check on it again Thursday or Friday.

"It's just such a great way to give back in a time that people are really scared, because I mean, you could donate it to the food shelf, but then you're there with a bunch of other people, and not everybody is comfortable doing that," Anderson said. "So, it was a really great opportunity to show my kids what it is to give."

'It's not a surprise'

The idea has spread across the country, with little free pantries popping up in Sauk Rapids, Minn., and Madison, Wis., as well as Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and other states.

Greig Metzger is the executive director of the Hudson-based nonprofit Little Free Library, a network of small free-standing boxes that promote and facilitate the free exchange of books within communities. There are 100,000 registered Little Free Library boxes in 108 countries, according to the organization's website.

A Little Free Library at 1132 Sunset Bay in Woodbury was converted into a little food pantry. Submitted photo
A Little Free Library at 1132 Sunset Bay in Woodbury was converted into a little food pantry. Submitted photo

"Frankly, it's not a surprise," Metzger said. "(People who have Little Free Libraries) are, I think by nature, people that want to help their neighbors and their community."

Metzger, who was formerly the executive director of the Christian Cupboard Emergency Food Shelf, also encouraged people to look for other ways to use their resources and connections to help out people in their communities.

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