As part of its continuing efforts to reach out and serve community needs, the West Chicago Public Library District (WCPLD) has created a unique service opportunity that literally brings outreach IN. Throughout the summer, the library participates in the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s (NFIB) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), serving over 2,800 free lunches last year alone to children up to age 18, weekdays over a 10-week period.
The SFSP is designed to fill the gap that occurs when school lets out for summer vacation and children who received free or reduced-price meals during the school year do not have access to those meal programs. So the WCPLD sought out a partnership with the school district and the NIFB last summer to serve as an additional SFSP site, bolstering the school district’s two existing sites. To date, we are the only public library in the NIFB service area, covering the northern half of Illinois, to provide this service.
Programs like this represent a great opportunity to reach out and serve the community in a non-traditional way. While the financial commitment is limited to the staff time needed for the mandatory training and the time spent implementing the program, the entire library has taken on the commitment to help solve the problem of food insecurity in the community. Through our partnership with the school district, every child qualifies for free lunch without registration or proof of income.
The additional stream of families utilizing our services has resulted in some great benefits for the library. The SFSP has not only contributed to increased summer reading registrations and participation, but last summer we suddenly noticed programs were filling up, especially on weekdays around the lunch hour. In serving 60 lunches on weekdays last summer, we had over a hundred parents and kids go through our program room every day where, while enjoying lunch, we were able to distribute information about the library and its services to families we may never have seen before. A total of 112 library card registrations last summer were a direct result of offering daily rewards to those children who had their library cards with them at lunch.
The rewards to the library, however, were overshadowed by the benefits to participating families. As the summer wore on, we began to notice kids making new friends. Parents, both moms and dads, started conversations that led to information and resource sharing. Those little wiggle worms, who couldn’t sit still for a meal in June, by July were enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and shared time with family and friends.
Summer is the busiest time of year in the public library, and this service model may not fit every library. But the need to demonstrate the essential role libraries play in the life of their communities is universal. The SFSP was a perfect addition to our community outreach activities, fulfilling our mission while providing opportunities for us to reach more children and families with literacy promotion and enriching programs.
Shelley Campbell is the Public Relations Specialist at the West Chicago Public Library District