Little free libraries have been around for years, with a simple mission as street-side cabinets to leave and take books.

The COVID-19 pandemic is reinventing the idea as a place to leave food or get it in-between food pantry or grocery store visits.

Three free little pantries have popped up in Deerfield in recent weeks, two outside the homes of local residents and one at Deerfield Lutheran Church.

Until about three weeks ago, the small wooden cabinet on a post in the church’s front lawn on South Main Street was a longtime little free library.

On Terrace Road on the village’s north side, Mike and Linda Carney are putting out two tables for a couple of hours every afternoon lined with canned goods and baked goods and other comfort foods. They’ve invited local residents to both take and leave items. The Carneys began putting their table out on April 16 and say they’ll keep doing it as long as a need is apparent.

And on South Atwood Lane on the village’s south side, Rochelle Elliott and her family have filled a retrofitted glass-door entertainment cabinet they found on Craigslist with food and personal care items. It’s now on their front lawn 24/7.

Terrace Road

Linda Carney, who’s semi-retired, a wellness consultant and a self-proclaimed foodie, said “feeding people is my love language. That is how I help people I care about. ‘Here, I made this for you, eat this.’”

She said baking the “comfort foods” like quick breads for the table is helping her fill her time in isolation.

“This gives me a chance to keep myself doing something that I like,” she said. “It’s keeping my hands busy, which is therapeutic and stress-reducing for me. If I can use this to help myself and for other people to benefit, I consider that a win-win.”

“It’s way for me to express my gratitude and pay it forward a little bit,” Carney added.

South Atwood Lane

Elliott said she had heard on social media about a little free pantry effort in a Madison neighborhood. She thought there might be a need here, in addition to the need being filled by the Deerfield Food Pantry.

“Even if someone is working that doesn’t mean they don’t need help. Or, maybe they can make it down (to DCC during pantry hours),” she said. “We all need help sometimes. Maybe some people are more ashamed or embarrassed to admit it, but at some point in our lives everyone is there.”

Elliott said her family initially stocked its little free pantry with a few things and three donations quickly came in, making for a selection one recent day of boxed meals, bread and fruit, canned pasta, toilet paper and baby items.

“We’ve even got one can of dog food out there; I’m hoping to get some diapers,” Elliott said. There are plastic grocery shopping bags users can fill to take home, she said.

The Elliott family decorated the cabinet with an “Imagine” theme, inspired by the John Lennon song.

“This is the time to come together,” Elliott said. “This is kind of where we are right now.”

Deerfield Lutheran Church

Deerfield Lutheran Church member Mary Wagner said she approached the church council about three weeks ago about temporarily converting its little free library into a pantry. The council was supportive, she said.

The hope is to stock it with more than just food, Wagner said.

“A family might need diapers and baby food and toothpaste, stuff like that,” she said.

So far, items have gone out faster than they’ve come in, proving that “there is obviously a need,” Wagner said.

“I’ve gone up there three times and filled it,” she said.

Wagner said she hopes the community embraces the church’s effort, helping to keep the pantry stocked.

“I think the community as a whole can play a part,” she said.

Wagner asked that donors not leave items on the church doorstep if the pantry cabinet is full. Come back, instead, in a day or two, and add see if there’s available space, she said.

Wagner also asked that cash donations not be left inside the pantry.

For more information, call the church office at (608) 764-5566.

Deerfield Little Free Pantries

• Elliott family pantry: 302 South Atwood Lane. Available 24 hours a day.

• Carney family pantry: 630 Terrace Road. Available Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.

• Deerfield Lutheran Church pantry: 206 South Main St. Available 24 hours a day.

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