A Charlottesville, Va., neighborhood started its Little Free Library with books as “food” for the mind. Now, it’s a little food pantry for the body.

Homeowner Jessica Bell founded and maintained the library in Briarwood Homeowners Association, a community of 202 single-family homes, by regularly stocking it with books. Bell took the advice from the national Little Free Library group and decided to shut down the leave-a-book-take-a-book box because of the COVID-19 pandemic and “all the protocols necessary to clean the books,” she says.

It wasn’t empty for long. “People are starting to have food pantries spring up all over (through) these Little Free Library boxes,” she says, crediting another neighbor with the idea. “We know many families are struggling now.”

The Briarwood pantry was moved to a more central area and is regularly stocked with donated nonperishable food items such as boxes of pasta, breakfast cereal, peanut butter jars, macaroni and cheese, canned soup, and cat food. Bell checks the little food pantry every day, and often refills it.

Bell urges people who use the Briarwood Little Free Pantry to “treat it like a grocery store, (and) wash your hands after you use it.”

Community associations have come together to help one another during this challenging time, whether it’s been picking up groceries and prescriptions, collecting donations, or coming up with ideas to lift spirits. In celebration of National Good Neighbor Day on Sept. 28, CAI asked members how they make a difference in their communities.

Results from the brief survey show that an overwhelming number of respondents (88%) have engaged with neighbors during the pandemic. Some of the ways they have provided support include organizing activities to spread joy and levity (33%), running small errands (30%), grocery and prescription pickups (26%), and helping with tasks such as homeschooling or yard cleaning (11%).

Many respondents said that they are actively involved in their community in numerous ways. Sixty-four percent volunteer on their association’s board of directors, and 49% volunteer to help out when needed. In addition, 44% of those surveyed attend social events in the community, while 26% participate in recreational activities.

There have been thousands of stories of communities spreading goodwill despite the challenges caused by COVID-19, and Briarwood is another example of neighbors coming together during a crisis.

“I’m so grateful just for the support for the community,” says Bell. “It makes me feel so good seeing people help their neighbors.”

  • Kiara Candelaria

    Kiara is the former associate editor for CAI’s print and digital publications. Before joining CAI, she worked for a trade media magazine focusing on the oil refining sector. Kiara also worked as an internal communications intern at the Library of Congress in 2015 and was a student journalist while attending college in Puerto Rico, where she was born and raised. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in information and journalism from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, in 2014 and earned a master’s degree in communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., in 2020.

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