Steward Spotlight: Pam Leo

By Sarah Howd

At age 71, author and family literacy activist Pam Leo says she is only just beginning “to end illiteracy for free.” Pam started her organization Book Fairy Pantry Project (BFPP) in 2016 after discovering some startling statistics about illiteracy and the lack of book access in underserved communities. These stats included the estimate that two thirds of children living in poverty in the United States do not own a single book.

What is the Book Fairy Pantry Project and how did it start?

The organization’s mission states, “The Book Fairy Pantry Project is a grassroots family literacy movement. This project has been implemented by the people, for the people. Volunteer Book Fairy Helpers collect new and gently-used, quality children’s books from donation boxes and book drives and deliver them to participating food pantries and WIC offices to be given out to parents.”

“Most of the attention my project has received has been local,” shares Pam, “but thanks to social media and our Book Fairy Facebook page we now have contacts on other continents that we are calling upon to help us spread our mission of ‘No Child With No Books.’ BFPP is in Ireland, not through food pantries, but through speech and language pathologists. I’m working with our contacts across the US and in England, Mexico, Canada, and Africa so far.”

Pam intended the project to be completely and easily replicable, and she provides instructions and resources to start your own Book Fairy Pantry Project on the organization’s website.

When did you start putting up Little Free Libraries? How many have you started?

“I see all Little Free Libraries as playing a very BIG role in the worthy goal of beginning to end poverty-caused illiteracy for free,” says Pam. “One of our other goals is to support schools and libraries in meeting the literacy needs of the community. That’s also what all Little Free Libraries do. They support meeting the literacy needs of their community.”

“I have two LFLs, so far. They were built specifically for my project by a young man who built them for us as his community service project to earn his Eagle Scout rank. I wanted them built to install in two less-income neighborhoods in our community, for families who owned few, if any books, and had no access to books through the closed public or school libraries at the height of Covid. I didn’t know about your Impact Libraries at the time.”

Learn about Little Free Library’s Impact Library Program.

How many books have been shared through BFPP and your little libraries?

“How many books? Well…. Because we are a grassroots, all-donation, all-volunteer nonprofit, and we sometimes get, but don’t rely on grants to operate, we don’t need the “metrics” of book counts for funding. Since I detest counting books, I have never counted how many books we have given out in the last six years of this project. Many thousands to be sure.”

What has been the most surprising part of being a Little Free Library steward?

“I’m consistently surprised at how many LFLs I come upon that contain no children’s books. So …. I, of course, quickly remedy that from my poor, little, always-full-of-books car turned Mobile Book Pantry.”

BFPP also plans to leverage Little Free Libraries for their new 100 Places-Before-Fall FREE Summer Family “Adventure Reading” Challenge.

This challenge encourages families to find 100 places in their communities or travels to read a book or a chapter before fall. Pam and her community-supported-literacy partner Danielle Hamlin, Family and Community Engagement Manager at Headstart, collaborated on this project to address the “double Whammy of Covid Slide and Summer Slide.”

“We are SO excited that LFL came out with your LFL App just in time for us to include it on our poster to promote our Free Summer ‘Adventure Reading’ Challenge,” shares Pam, “Your App helps us transform our ‘Adventure Reading’ into an exciting adventure sport like letterboxing or geocaching!”

Download the Little Free Library Mobile App to find libraries near you!

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