Volunteers convert Nisswa’s Little Free Library into food pantry amid outbreak

While local communities reel from the social and economic fallout of COVID-19, volunteers are banding together in Nisswa to provide new and novel ways to support their community.

A Little Free Library in front of the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce has temporarily been turned into a free pantry, seen here Saturday, March 28. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention.

With the coronavirus pandemic stalling nations, communities and families across the globe — necessity, plus a little compassion and teamwork — is also fostering creativity during a time of great uncertainty for many.

Take the Little Free Library standing in front of the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce. Most area residents are likely well acquainted with Free Little Libraries — small kiosks, often built like a cross between a mailbox and an oversized birdhouse, in which books can be stored and protected from the elements for the community to borrow at their leisure. As an easily accessible community resource, they’re a natural fit for different purposes during the current crisis, said Nisswa Chamber President Amanda McGregor, who spoke warmly of a group of volunteers who stepped in mid-March to stockpile food for those in need.

Community members Missy Trees, Miranda Foy and Shawn Hansen approached the chamber in March to see if officials would be on board with converting the Little Free Library out front into a free food pantry in an attempt to bolster area families amid social isolation, economic downturn and widespread anxiety. From there, volunteers and chamber employees banded together to make it a reality.

“We reached out to the experts in our community who were already well involved with volunteer efforts helping with hunger,” McGregor said. “Everyone was of the same mindset that this is something that we can and should be doing. Like anything else, we just have to adapt it.”


Once the books were transported inside the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce and the Little Free Library was stocked with food supplies, McGregor said it’s been a steady stream of donations — and not just food, she noted, but more books, puzzles and children’s games, entertainment, candies and candles, among other novelties added every day.

“People have been donating regularly every time I come by,” McGregor said. “There’s new items, new food items, and then it really grew very quickly from being food to other things as well. It’s really evolved. This is 100% the people in the community and volunteers and most of them have been anonymous.”

Much like other businesses and many nonprofits, traditional food pantries may be hogtied by social distancing and restrictions on communal gatherings — which is where the Little Free Library pantry comes in, said McGregor. She added the recipients of the food pantry can remain anonymous themselves if they so wish, continue to practice social distancing, and do so in a way that’s accessible for members of the community at large.

“Everything starts with a seed and then grows from there, especially in the perspective of how things always generate really from the community members and the people they care for,” McGregor said. “I don't think any of us really realized or knew what this was going to be, whether it was going to be a good idea or a bad idea when we started. I just want everyone to really give credit and support to the volunteers and the people in our community that come up with stuff like this. It's pretty amazing.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .
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