- Associated Press - Sunday, April 18, 2021

SALEM, Va. (AP) - Susan Chewning’s love of reading has resulted in her launching Little Free Libraries throughout the Roanoke Valley and getting her Salem church involved in book fairs.

The next book fair will be 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 24 at Real Life Ministries, 4338 Alleghany Drive in Salem.

All categories of books, minus references such as encyclopedias, will be available. Some might have come from the Little Free Library towers Chewning has helped establish.

The fair also will feature donated items such as DVDs, VHS tapes, audio CDs and toys.

Although Chewning “always felt solace and comfort in reading,” she never dreamed of becoming a book steward. “The pages transported me into a different world and different circumstances,” Chewning, who was laid off from two jobs in 2020 due to the pandemic, said in a recent email.

“The magic was intensified when sitting in a quiet library, surrounded by books, promising me to take me away to various lands, times, and characters,” she explained.

As an adult, Chewning, now working in information technology field, said she looked for ways to promote literacy and discovered Little Free Library, a nationwide free book exchange where anyone may take or leave books.

She found some free literature towers that once held real estate brochures on street corners and outside restaurants to use as her libraries.

A publisher was giving away the red towers.

Being a firm believer in the philosophy of “reduce, reuse, recycle” Chewning asked for the lot.

“God answered my prayer, and apparently he has a sense of heavenly humor as I wound up with 41 of these in July. I heard his still, small voice to take this on as my ministry. I guess he felt I needed something to do after losing my job to COVID last year.”

After creating a Little Free Library for her own yard, Chewning placed one at Real Life Ministries, where in March she partnered with the food ministry on a book fair and food drive. The public browsed and selected books for a small donation of food or money or nothing.

She placed a free library tower at a friend’s house, and “as the momentum picked up … I was able to upcycle all of the towers.” Some were transported to Northern Virginia while some were upcycled as feral cat shelters and a couple were made into bunny pens for a breeder in Vinton.

Chewning found Roanoke Valley volunteers who wanted to become Little Free Library stewards, willing to stock, clean and maintain their Little Free Library. She said she has helped place 24 in Vinton, Roanoke, Bonsack, Troutville, Salem, Glenvar, Blacksburg and Bedford.

“First and foremost, we do this to serve the community as Jesus instructed us to do; and secondly to promote literacy and reading, which helps develop imagination, and learning during the times of the pandemic,” she said.

Providing free books and book-exchange boxes is an easy, safe, socially distanced outreach ministry, Chewning added.

Through donations and partnership with her church, she acquired a good stock of books to supply the libraries and created a fundraiser to raise money to help stock, charter and decorate the little libraries.

For the April 24 book fair, the church and Little Free Library stewards will be using a UPC code and stamping each book with “Always a gift, never for sale.”

Visitors are asked to wear a mask and adhere to the one-way flow of traffic marked with tape along the floor.

For more information, call Susan Chewning at 540-793-3959.

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