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Neighborhood 'Little Free Libraries' convert to 'Little Free Pantries'

Contributing to the local community is a year-round practice for many Seattleites. However, during these exceptionally challenging times, some residents are adapting how they give-back to better meet the changing needs of today's COVID-19 environment.

Over the past few years, "Little Free Libraries" have become a growing trend in Seattle and around the country. These front yard book boxes are created by homeowners and placed in their front yards to inspire neighborhood book exchanges, community building and a love of reading. Today, many Little Free Libraries are being converted into boxes that share food and other household necessities to assist those needing extra assistance during the pandemic crisis.

With needs to be met, people are coming up with ways both big and small to help their neighbors. One Emerald City resident, Cindy Pestka, is replacing the books in her little free library with non-perishable goods. By doing so, she has created a mini food bank to share with those in need as the pandemic continues to affect the lives of citizens nationwide drastically.

"I've had a Little Free Library in my yard for about ten years now," said Pestka. "Recently, my best friend in Olympia turned her Little Free Library into a Little Free Pantry. When she did, I thought this is the perfect time to do this."

In February, Pestka ordered two gallons of hand sanitizer and filled up small bottles to share with others, knowing there was a need. She then posted on an online neighborhood website to ask who needed hand sanitizer. The response she received was overwhelming. Instead of charging people for the product, she asked them to donate some food for her little pantry instead.

[Photos: A roundup of those Little Free Libraries you see all over town]

"I received five or six grocery bags worth of donations on the first day from people who were just picking up their one little bottle of hand sanitizer," she said. "There was even toilet paper and cleaner donated. People were not just giving the stuff that no one cared about. They were so generous."

People are encouraged to take what they need from the pantry and give what they are able, and of course, to sanitize their hands and groceries when accessing the pantry.

"For me, one of the ways I'm staying sane during all this is to find ways to connect with my community and be of service to people," said Pestka. "It gets me out of my own head and my own concerns. I think we all can contribute something. So many people want to help, but they don't really know how, especially when they're not supposed to be around others."

Pestka wants to encourage others to do similar good works, like making and donating masks to the library or other businesses. She also recommends putting an extra little bottle of hand sanitizer in the mailbox for the postal carrier with a note to take it if needed.

"Finding a way to give back to your neighbors right now is hugely satisfying, and connecting with others takes away some of the powerlessness we feel," she explained. "Every single bit counts. It all fills the bucket."

Pestka's little free pantry is located on Erskine near 46th Avenue in West Seattle.