GREENFIELD — They’re only roughly three cubic feet, but the assorted “little libraries” and “blessing boxes” scattered throughout Hancock County pack a lot of love into a relatively small space.
Some are filled and maintained by the local parks department, others by a local church.
One in particular was hand-crafted by a couple who simply wanted to see folks smile as they select a book from the little library box outside their home.
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Most of the boxes stand about 5 feet tall — picture a cabinet atop a post — and they’re filled with items that are free for the taking.
Little libraries offer an assortment of books, while blessing boxes, also known as little pantries, offer a variety of necessities like canned goods, diapers and toiletries.
The libraries are intended to promote reading by fostering a community book exchange, and to provide books for children and adults who wouldn’t otherwise have access to them.
The pantries are mostly geared toward the underserved, although they’re open to anyone who might need it — like a neighbor who might be short one can of fruit or box of mac and cheese.
Placing boxes filled with books, canned goods and other necessities might seem like the most down-home, neighborly thing to do, but it’s actually part of a global concept.
Visit littlefreelibrary.org or littlefreepantry.org for a glimpse into the tens of thousands of people who are posting, stocking and maintaining the little boxes in countries worldwide.
It seems maintaining the boxes is a labor of love.
“It just fills my heart to see people stop by and take books. It’s like a mini-Christmas,” said Abby Gangler, whose husband, Levi, built the decorative little library that sits in the front yard of their home at 325 E. North St. in downtown Greenfield.
Gangler loves the fact the little library sits right by the neighborhood bus stop, allowing kids extra time to peruse the books and take home a favorite or two.
“We get excited every time we see someone stop by the box,” she said.
“I thought this was a good way to give back to the community and get to know your neighbors a little better,” she said.
A collection of little libraries popped up throughout the Hancock County in 2014 as part of a Leadership Hancock County class project. Another Leadership group re-invigorated the project in 2017.
Jeff Butts, technology specialist at Hancock County Public Library, initiated the project and assembled a team of community partners to bring it to fruition.
He and his dad built a collection of boxes created to look like local landmarks, like the Riley Boyhood Home and Riley Pool. Staff at the Greenfield Parks Department built boxes that are now placed at Brandywine Park and the Pennsy Trail. Volunteers at Home Depot built the box that now sits within Greenfield’s Commons Park.
“The purpose of the project was just to get people to read, which was a good fit with me working at the library, but with my dad getting older I also wanted to do some woodworking projects with him,” said Butts.
The little libraries are now maintained by the Greenfield Parks Department, with many books donated by the The Hancock County Friends of the Library group, but Butts said it would be ideal if individuals or groups of volunteers would step up to help maintain and stock them.
Teamwork is the key to stocking the community pantry located in the lobby of the Greenfield Police Department, at 116 St. State St.
At roughly 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, it’s not your typical blessing box. The sizeable cabinet is consistently stocked with non-perishable foods, toiletries and toilet paper.
“So far it’s been working extremely well and getting a lot of use. We may expand to two cabinets,” said Dave Wise, pastor at Otterbein United Methodist Church.
Wise initiated the pantry project after he and his wife spotted a similar one at a South Carolina church.
“We thought we should replicate that in Hancock County,” said Wise, who assembled an interdenominational team of ten churches and two nonprofits that check and restock the pantry each month.
The pantry is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It’s open to everybody. Anyone can walk in there and take what they need, or leave what they can,” Wise said. “It won’t feed a family of four for a week, but a family of four can go in there anytime and have access to food.”
In 2018, Greenfield Church of God placed its first “blessing box” in Greenfield, with signage letting passers-by know that anyone was welcome to take and enjoy the non-perishable food items stocked within.
The boxes were hand-built by church member Matt Miles and are restocked and maintained by church members. One is posted near the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and South streets in downtown Greenfield, the other is near two mobile home communities at Park Avenue and Pratt Street.
“It’s been a huge success with being a help to those in need in our community,” said church member Ashley Bridges in an email.
Those who maintain the boxes say they feel equally blessed as those who use them.
Gangler said having the little library in her front yard helps teach her young daughters about the joy of giving and connecting with others.
“I’ve always wanted to be part of a small community,” said Gangler. “I really love all my neighbors, and I like being able to give back a little bit, to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. I teach my girls to do the same.”
She and her husband actually picked out their historic home on North Street because it looked like the perfect spot to place the little library Abby had been dreaming of.
“When we saw this house and saw a lot of foot traffic, I said this will be perfect,” said Gangler, who previously lived in suburban Greenwood, but was looking for a quieter, historic neighborhood to call home.
Her husband built her little library as a Mother’s Day gift last year, using a six-panel window they found on Facebook marketplace. Abby spent the next weeks painstakingly cutting colorful glass tiles and attaching them in a mosaic pattern on the library box and post.
She considers herself as a crafter rather than an artist, but passers-by might very well consider her handcrafted library box to be a work of art.
Gangler said a handful of people stop and give her books to place in the box, including a woman who works at the local library. “I’ve never gotten her name, but about once a month she brings me a couple boxes of books,” she said.
While some little libraries encourage readers to “take a book, leave a book” type of exchange system, Gangler doesn’t require it.
She simply wants to share her love of reading and connectedness with the community.
At a glance
Little Free Library
Little Free Library is a nonprofit that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.
Millions of books are exchanged annually at more than 90,000 little libraries in more than 90 countries worldwide. The program increases access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds.
The nonprofit helps groups and individuals start and maintain Little Free Library book exchanges by offering free library-building instructions, an online store with pre-built library models and kits, access to free or discounted books, and an e-newsletter full of ideas and advice.
Visit littlefreelibrary.org to view the world map of registered Little Free Library boxes, or to start one of your own.
From the website:
-Academically, children growing up in homes without books are on average three years behind children in homes with lots of books, even when controlled for other key factors. One of the most successful ways to improve the reading achievement of children is to increase their access to books, especially at home. But two out of three children living in poverty have no books to call their own.
-Little Free Library book-sharing boxes play an essential role by providing 24/7 access to books and encouraging a love of reading in areas where books are scarce. The Little Free Library nonprofit works to address “book deserts” and place libraries where they can make a big impact through its Impact Library Program. More than 1,000 little libraries have been donated to-date.
Motto: “Take a book, share a book”
Little Free Pantry
The Little Free Pantry is a grassroots, crowd-sourced initiative based on the Little Free Library program.
While community food pantries are accessible only during open hours, Little Food Pantries are accessible 24 hours a day.
The Little Food Pantry website provides free work plans for building the pantry boxes, but also encourages volunteers to get creative with their own designs.
The nonprofit suggests attaching the standard-size boxes to a 4-by-4 post cemented into the ground, and encourages those placing boxes to first check with local community or city zoning codes, then select a space that is safely accessible by the public. North or east-facing locations are best.
From the website:
-The Little Free Pantry is for neighbors helping neighbors. In high poverty areas, the pantries are most often for those who are not easily able to meet everyday food and personal needs. In middle class neighborhoods, the pantries might stock after-school snacks for neighborhood kids or that “cup of sugar” you never have when you need it.
-Encourage your contributors to stock according to need. Discourage sharps items like razors, chemicals and clothing.
-If stock does not turn over frequently, monitor cans for bulging and leaking, especially during extreme temperatures.
Motto: Feeding neighbors. Nourishing Neighborhoods