Giving Compass' Take:
- Public libraries served as community hubs addressing food insecurity by starting food distribution initiatives.
- How can donors help advance and support library efforts to serve communities? In what other ways can donors advocate for community development sites?
- Learn how rural libraries are working hard to boost reading proficiency.
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In the summer of 2021, public libraries everywhere, from Idaho and Oklahoma to Tennessee and Arizona, will offer free meals to families with children in their local communities.
What might look like a new role for libraries builds on their long tradition of serving as innovation spaces, community centers and sanctuaries for people who are homeless or mentally ill.
I’ve been researching how public libraries address food insecurity – what happens when households can’t acquire adequate food because they can’t afford it or can’t access it for other reasons. Across the board, these efforts emerge from community partnerships with organizations that include school districts and food banks.
As Kristin Warzocha, president of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, explained in 2016, “We have the food, and they have the patrons who need it.”
The earliest example of this kind I’ve found dates back 35 years. In 1986, the Nelsonville branch of the Athens County Public Library in southeastern Ohio began serving federally funded lunches in the summertime to children to ensure that they don’t go hungry.
That county has one of Ohio’s highest food-insecurity rates, which helps explain why librarians there sought to provide food access in tandem with summer learning activities.
By 2019, over 2,000 U.S. public libraries – about 1 in 10 – served summer meals.
This practice has largely remained below the radar. The official magazine of the American Library Association didn’t mention this trend until 2008. Since then, though, growing state and national recognition and support has begun to emerge.
Read the full article about public libraries for food distribution by Noah Lenstra at The 74.