Books are a pathway to immerse yourself into an unfamiliar culture or travel to fantasy lands searching for buried treasure. These adventures often start at your local library. However, the adventure is difficult if your only thought is about when you will eat next.
The Addison Public Library is across the street from a local school. Each day more than 100 children and teens walk through the doors to utilize the services offered there.
“We were essentially running an unofficial after school program for these kids,” said Elizabeth Lynch, teen services coordinator at the library.
Elizabeth and other staff members noticed something about the children; many were hungry and asking for snacks. Staff members would keep granola bars or something else at their desks to satisfy any requests, but they knew something more could be done to combat the issue.
After having a discussion with a colleague who had done something similar with another food bank, Lynch contacted Northern Illinois Food Bank to find out about how Addison Public Library could be part of the Summer and After-School Meal Programs.
In the summer of 2015, they began as a summer site serving more than 4,000 meals to 100 children each day. Addison Public Library is one of more than 14 public libraries that participate in Northern Illinois Food Bank’s Summer Meal Program.
“We have seen the difference that it makes in the behaviors of kids hanging out after school and during the summer,” Elizabeth said. “They act calmer, are more focused, and I believe there is also an element of appreciation that we make this individual connection each day and create a mutual respect overall.”
The other component of the program is the use of teen volunteers. While there is always a trained staff member on-site, the teens are embracing their duties to the fullest.
“I saw a transformation in the teens that were involved,” she said. “Many became leaders and allowed this to become a defining experience.”
Before the program began, those involved in starting it didn’t realize the kind of impact it would have on the community as a whole and how the perception of the library has been changed.
“We are still focused on literacy and civic engagement, but we came to recognize to do this successfully we needed to blend in programs like the Summer Food Service Program and partner with the Food Bank,” Elizabeth said.
To locate a participating Summer Meals Program near you, visit www.riseandshineIllinois.org or call the Food Bank at 630-443-6910