You’ve probably seen the Little Free Libraries popping up in front of people’s houses throughout Pittsburgh.

With the coronavirus crisis, a Dormont family has turned that concept into the Dormont Little Free Pantry

There are two on their front porch at 2958 Belrose Avenue: one for food, and another Little Free Library box stocked with hygiene products. Anyone can come and take what they need, any day and time of the week. It’s an idea that has picked up steam nationwide.

“There’s a lot we don’t have control over right now. This is something I can do to contribute to my community,” says host Carla Chugani, assistant professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The original idea was to create a hygiene pantry after Chugani read an article about how some women can’t afford menstrual products. A friend skilled at woodworking made them two boxes, but they could never figure out how to put them on a post safely.

Dormont Little Free Pantry’s Hygiene Pantry.
Dormont Little Free Pantry’s Hygiene Pantry.

When they learned of so many people suddenly out of work, they got the boxes out of the basement and onto the porch. Chugani put out the word on Dormont’s very active Facebook communities, as well as those for neighboring Brookline and Beechview. Donations began flooding in and the boxes are being refilled as needed.

They’re learning what goes fast. “One of the things that’s become apparent is that there’s a higher need for child-friendly foods, or one could call it comfort food. Things like mac and cheese, breakfast cereals, little cups of applesauce, fruit cocktail, snack foods, pasta and jarred sauce,” says Chugani.

Compact items work best. As long as the food is unopened, unexpired and non-perishable, donors can simply drop items off on the porch.

“The pantry will always have canned vegetables, canned soups, dried noodle soups like ramen or Cup O’Noodles seem to go pretty quickly as well,” says Chugani, who would like to start a garden and include homegrown products in the spring. She’s also working on adding a box for children’s items due to a generous donation of teddy bears, crayons, coloring books and postcards from EMBRACE Pittsburgh.

The reaction from the neighborhood has been incredible, Chugani says. “There are a lot of people who are in a situation that they didn’t expect to be in. We’re all in this together. Those who need the pantry should please come and use it and take as much as they need, as often as they need.”

There’s another Little Free Pantry in front of the Environmental Charter Intermediate School in Regent Square. Let us know if you’ve seen any others around town and we’ll add more details here. Email us or comment below.

To find Little Free Libraries, go here. There are at least four in the Dormont area alone.

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.