Little library provides books, food for Milford’s needy

Theresa Maloney operates a nonperishable food pantry with a library in front of her house on Big Stone Beach Road in Milford, where people in need can take food and borrow books. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

MILFORD — The Milford Public Library isn’t the only place that is lending books via curbside pickup in the COVID-19 era.

On Big Stone Beach Road, there’s a much smaller library affixed to a mailbox post.

Theresa Maloney’s “Little Free Library” is only a few feet tall and a couple of inches deep, but it’s packed with mystery novels, books about dogs and a pantry element containing nonperishable items for those struggling with food insecurity.

She said many in Milford are happy to have the books at their disposal.

“People still like to read books,” Ms. Maloney said. “I know everything’s electronic these days, but the library’s been closed, and it’s hard to find where to go to grab a book to read. People probably can’t afford to get on Amazon to purchase a book if they’re not working or they’re living off unemployment.”

The offer of the nonperishable food has also been popular during these trying times, she said.

“People have been very receptive in taking the food. No one’s actually come and cleaned it all out,” Ms. Maloney said. “People just take what they need.”

Ms. Maloney, who runs a pet-sitting business called Just Like Home, said she first found out about the Little Free Library concept about four years ago on a work trip.

“I actually was sent out to California, to San Diego, to care for two Yorkies, and when I was walking around the neighborhood I was staying at, they had what’s called a little library, and I thought it was adorable,” she said. “I just thought that was the greatest idea because I love to read.”

Ever since, she’s wanted to start her own little library, but her lack of woodworking skills held her back. But then, on Facebook, she found Jarrod Adams, a part-time carpenter based out of Milton who was spending his COVID-19 downtime making chicken coops.

“He had it made in a day. He came down and delivered it,” Ms. Maloney said. “I had the post put in, and he came back and installed it.”

Mr. Adams said he sold the structure to Ms. Maloney for $150.

Ms. Maloney stocks the pantry with books and nonperishable food. Ms. Maloney said she’s looking to add more children’s books to her own library. She also accepts food donations.

“She wanted the pantry built to be rugged, so I used all 2 by 3 construction in the frame. Then I used reclaimed pallet boards to make sides and the back,” he said. “I sealed it with a five-year deck stain.”

Mr. Adams crafted the front windows of the structure out of heavy-gauge Plexiglas and built them with a clasp mechanism on the inside to keep the books and food safe.

“A random raccoon can’t walk by and pop it open,” he said.

Mr. Adams said his six kids think the little library concept is “amazing.” One of his children is an avid reader and a particularly heavy user of a similar box in Milton.

“Whenever we go to the park there in Milton, she likes to swing by,” he said. “She’ll drop off her books that she’s read four or five times and takes a gander and checks it out, sees if there’s something she hasn’t seen before, and we kind of do a swap.”

Ms. Maloney said she’s looking to add more children’s books to her own library. She also accepts food donations.

“I have a waterproof box at the bottom of the post, so people can leave things in there, then I can sanitize them and put them up into the pantry,” Ms. Maloney said. “I also have hand sanitizer there and some signs about COVID.”

She said food insecurity became a big problem in Milford and statewide with the onset of COVID-19. In particular, Ms. Maloney was worried about children in struggling households being home from school and not getting the free lunches they used to be provided.

“I’ve seen a van pull up one time with a little girl. She couldn’t have been more than 8 years old. She got out, and her mom was probably behind the wheel,” she said. “It just breaks my heart.”

Ms. Maloney commended the work of the local Food Bank, but worried that it wasn’t accessible to everyone.

“I know there’s a Food Bank here in Milford, and they’re wonderful, but perhaps not everyone can go to the Food Bank for whatever hours they’re open.”

Mr. Adams added that many struggling with hunger would not want to be publicly out.

“Not everyone wants to walk into a pantry,” he said. “The ability to have the anonymity at the end of that road there, I’m sure that means a lot to people.”

Ms. Maloney’s home is at 5788 Big Stone Beach Road. Those looking to stop by for a book or some food can head east on Kent 409, which is accessible via Del. 1, then take a left onto Big Stone Beach Road, which is also known as Kent 124. Ms. Maloney said there’s a light, which makes it visible at night, and that people should feel free to pull into her driveway.