Above: One of the Free Little Libraries in Etna, located at 19 High St. Photo courtesy of Megan Tuñón.
It’s the little things that can put a spring in our step, the tiny stuff that can make life less gruff.
Little libraries, and pantries, and art, are some of those things, that when you see them it feels like your heart has grown wings.
For this feature, the Triboro Ecodistrict would like to recognize the Free Little Libraries + Pantries + Art Gallery throughout the three boroughs. They provide residents of all ages with access to books, food, and artwork, and can let people know that their community is looking out for them.
To view all of the locations, click here. Did we miss a library or pantry, or do you have more information you’d like to add to the map? Email email@example.com.
Outside of Tupelo Honey Teas, 211 Grant Ave., sits a Free Little Pantry that is stocked by shop owner Danielle Spinola and generous volunteers like Mary Miller, who focus on providing neighbors with easy meals like canned pastas, soups, and vegetables.
“Every time [Mary] walks by, she looks inside the pantry to see if it needs to be filled. She collects a lot of food from the Holy Spirit [Parish] and she will bring boxes and boxes of food,” Spinola said. “If someone wants something, Aunt Mary makes sure they get it.”
Spinola said when stocking the pantry it’s important to think about the accessibility of the items, like if the food can be cooked without a stove, or the price of ingredients required to make something like mac and cheese with powdered cheese, because milk and butter is needed. (Easy Mac with cheese sauce is preferred.)
She’s also run into the issue that some residents don’t have can openers, or she receives food items that are well past their expiration date. Spinola said someone once donated an item that expired in 1999.
Over the winter, Spinola partnered with Pure Grub 412 to have a cooler outside the shop as well where people could grab prepared meals and dried goods. The cooler wasn’t fully insulated, so as the weather has gotten warmer, Tupelo and Pure Grub have paused the prepared meals.
This is where Millvale Community Library enters the scene. Nora Peters, executive director at MCL, said the library received grant funding to purchase and install a Free Community Fridge in the back of the library. The fridge should be up and running by mid-June.
“The fridge will be available to the community 24/7, and will be stocked with fresh produce prepared meals, frozen meals, and meal kits, prepared by local restaurants and food partners,” Peters said.
There is also a Free Little Pantry located at the Gardens of Millvale.
The gardens, Tupelo, and Pure Grub 412 are three of seven Free Fridge project partners. The others include 412 Food Rescue, Christ Lutheran Church, Sprezzatura, and Duncan Street Sandwich Shop.
If you would like to volunteer to be a Fridge Steward for the Free Fridge project, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to help stock the Little Pantry at Tupelo, contact email@example.com about what items are needed.
Megan Tuñón, executive director of Etna Community Organization, put up the first Free Little Library in her borough in August 2019, located at 19 High St.
“It’s a central point where people can meet,” Tuñón said. “I love looking out my window and seeing little kids peeking in [the library], and I talk to them and their parents. Meeting neighbors that way is really nice.”
The library is made out of an old china cabinet that someone in the neighborhood had put out to the curb, and the glass etching on the front was done by a local artist. It reads:
“Etna Little Library
Free Community Resource
Take a Book, Return a Book”
Tuñón said she has a basement full of books that people have donated, and sometimes she comes home to find a bag of them left at the library. She likes to sort the books into three sections: children, young adult, and adult, and she’ll curate the selection to fit the season.
When the pandemic hit last year and food insecurity was exacerbated, Tuñón said she converted the library into a food pantry and was filling it a couple times a week with nonperishable items like canned beans and rice.
“I didn’t always see people [using the pantry], but I would fill it up a couple times a week, and it would be almost empty the next day,” Tuñón said. “Neighbors really stepped up and donated a lot to help keep it full.”
The pantry was recently converted back into a little library, and Etna residents should keep an eye out for a new Little Library and a Little Pantry at ECO Park on the corner of Wilson Street and Grant Avenue.
Etna also has a Free Little Pantry at Etna Community Garden, and several Free Little Libraries. Click here for the map.
A Free Little Art Gallery made its debut in Sharpsburg on May 22 this year during the Sharpsburg Art Adventure. Housed next to Gino Brothers, 713 Main St., it was built out of repurposed and recycled materials by a local handyman who goes by the name of “Scrappy.”
Inside the little gallery, residents can leave art they’ve made and art supplies, or they can take art home with them, or both. No even exchange is required. Follow @FLAGsharpsburg on Instagram to see what people are adding to the gallery.
Nanci Goldberg, owner of Ketchup City Creative, said the Free Little Art Gallery is co-founded and run by Susan Adams and her son Caleb of O’Hara Township. Caleb was really keen on starting a Little Art Gallery, so he reached out to Goldberg via zoom and the rest is art history.
“We were very fortunate to have a supportive member of the community, Ferdi Baylassin, owner of Gino Brothers Pizza, who was willing to give us space for this fun and creative adventure,” Goldberg said. “The arts really need a supportive community for them to grow and thrive. We see that starting to happen in Sharpsburg and it’s very exciting. We feel like art can be very placemaking and give people a sense of community pride. So far, we can’t keep up with the amount of art that’s coming in and going out, and it’s really exciting!”
Outside the Sharpsburg Community Library, visitors will find a Free Little Pantry that was installed this past February. Sara Mariacher, SCL director, said earlier this year the library received a sizable donation in honor of a patron’s 50th birthday to help those experiencing food insecurity.
“We typically fill it three days per week,” Mariacher said. “One day per week we put out toiletry products. Otherwise, the pantry is for food. [It] usually empties within several hours of us filling it, but we cannot sustain daily fillings based on our donation intake.”
If you’d like to make a donation to this Free Little Pantry, Mariacher asked that items be dropped off with library staff during library hours.
Sharpsburg also has a Free Little Library located at Marion Gerardi Memorial Park.