The Foellinger Foundation, a local foundation which has funded our summer library programs for years, gave us money this year to try extra programming in lower income areas of our county. Historically these areas have had the lowest attendance in our summer programming. Having this wonderful gift/opportunity for these areas, we needed a new idea to attract them into our libraries. What would be a good attraction? Food!
Our local school system continues to serve free lunches to low income children of Fort Wayne during the summer through our park system, local churches and clubs. We decided to see if we could become part of that delivery system, hoping it would attract those who usually do not darken our doors. Then following the lunches we would invite them to stay for programming. Would it work?
First we contacted the Food Services division of the local school system and asked if we could be sites for their summer free lunch program. They gladly welcomed us. They had to inspect our libraries, we had to go through an hour’s training, and then we were set to go. They deliver lunches at no charge to us 5 days a week.
We used our grant money to hire extra staff to serve the lunches and then help out with the programs following the lunches. The participating libraries got together and created three, really big shared week long programs that would be shuttled from one branch to the other during the 8 weeks. Their themes centered on the most popular books– Harry Potter, Wimpy Kid, and Percy Jackson. The other weeks were filled with other local programming. All programs had a focus on increasing vocabulary, plus giving out free books each week.
Although the programming is still going on, we have learned a few things. Attendance was lower than expected during the first week, but it has grown through-out the summer. The age of children attending was much younger than what we expected, too. We had to do some quick recalibrating of the program levels.
Other than these two items the free lunch programs are doing what we wanted — drawing in new people, and it also has an unexpected benefit. Mary Voors, our Main Library Children’s Services Manager said, “I think the free lunch program is one of the most important programs we’ve done at the Library in years. The camp portion is fun… but using the Library as a site to get food into the stomachs of hungry children; it’s priceless! In addition, we are seeing a dramatic change in the kids who are at the Library all day during the summer. They are happier, create fewer problems for staff, are more focused… and not asking staff for food because they are hungry!” Now that is a Win-Win situation.
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