By Jason Arndt
The Burlington Public Library isn’t just a place for people to check out books.
The local library, which offers a wealth of activities and programs for adults and children, recently introduced a new feature called the “Little Free Pantry” in an effort to help patrons in need of a little support.
Employee Callie Koehne said the latest addition to the public library comes after the local institution’s success during the soup lunch held around Christmas.
“It was packed for about three hours and people were so happy to be here,” Koehne recalled. “We saw a lot of different people from the community.”
A mother of two children, Koehne remembered her oldest child offer a simple suggestion, which was to make food available for patrons on a regular basis.
After brief consideration, Koehne and other library employees presented the idea to officials – including Library Director Joe Davies, who endorsed the proposal – and the “Little Free Pantry” became a reality the next day.
“It has been great, we have a lot of people using it,” Koehne said.
The Little Free Pantry, using the same principles as the global Little Free Libraries initiative, allows patrons to donate to the pantry and take items with no questions asked.
Since then, the feature has brought in more donations than people seeking to take advantage of the free pantry.
“It’s just donations and people bring in a lot,” said Koehne, adding that some people have even donated free COVID-19 tests.
“People just take what they need and we have more people leaving food than taking it,” she said.
While the Burlington area has a valuable resource in Love, Inc. – which helps thousands of families in need on an annual basis – the Little Free Pantry looks to help patrons already using services at the public library who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access the nonprofit Love, Inc.
Koehne said most patrons seeking items from the pantry are the elderly and those who don’t have transportation.
“You are kind of here anyways because it’s a place for people to come and hang out for a couple of hours in a day,” she said. “It is easier to grab a couple of things from here, instead of walking down to Love, Inc.
“We have had people come in with a bag and take a bunch of stuff,” Koehne added.
The latest addition is a way for the Burlington Public Library to further serve the community.
The library – which continues to offer traditional services such as book checkouts and online portals like Libby – also sees a steady flow of young patrons.
Last month, Youth Services Librarian Emily Laidley told the Standard Press that she has seen 30 to 40 teenagers come in simply to hang out and hold conversations.
“It really is a community center,” Koehne said. “For the people who come in every day, we might be the only person they talk to. So it’s really neat to provide services for them.”
She said the community services would not be possible without caring employees at the library.
“It is amazing what these guys do, they really are a resource for the community for all sorts of people who need services,” Koehne said.
Davies commended his staff members as well, saying they have found more ways to serve the community, including those in need for more support.
“I’m so proud of my staff for thinking beyond the traditional stereotype of a library and finding another way to help improve the lives of the members of our community,” he said.