Rich Kremer

Wisconsin Public Radio

The Wisconsin man who founded Little Free Library, a book sharing program that has spread from Hudson to across the globe, died Thursday from complications related to pancreatic cancer, but his concept lives on and is growing beyond books to include free toiletries, food and even school supplies.

Todd Bol’s idea to build a small box reminiscent of a one-room school house and stock it with books for neighbors to borrow free of charge has expanded worldwide. The boxes aren't only found across Wisconsin but in places like Pakistan, Brazil and Australia.

But Bol’s idea of a shared, communal site to exchange books has expanded with people across the world coming up with their own twists.

In Michigan, a woman has created a Little Free Library that also contains feminine hygiene products.

In Arkansas, a Little Free Pantry was created that offers food and school supplies for children.

Kristine Zaballos followed suit in Whitewater by creating a Little Free Pantry of her own.

"So, the minute I heard about the LFP (Little Free Pantry) concept, I leaped at it because our regular food pantry in town has very limited hours and I am on a busy street near three of the five public schools," said Zaballos. "24/7 access to food and toiletries, freely offered and with no questions asked!"

The response from neighbors and community members has been amazing, said Zaballos.

"All sorts of people leave things as well as take things - and some people do both, depending on the time of the month," Zaballos said. "I’ve got stories and handwritten notes from people who said the box helped them through a rough patch, and how pleased they were to be able contribute to the pantry when they got back on their feet."

Due to Wisconsin's harsh winter, the Little Free Pantry is moved inside to the local library.

It’s a fitting tribute to Bol’s vision, said Margret Aldrich, communications and program manager for the nonprofit Little Free Library organization.

"He loved the idea that people were taking the concept of Little Free Library and making it work for their community and what that community needed, whether it’s a little free pantry or a little free library that offers school supplies for kids," Aldrich said.

She says the Little Free Library idea has spread from Bol’s front yard to more than 75,000 sites in 88 countries around the world.

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