Once a month I visit our local food pantry, the Algonquin Lake in the Hills Interfaith Food Pantry, to conduct storytime in the pantry’s amazing victory garden. The pantry is adjacent to a village park, and is a lovely outdoor setting for a children’s program.
I became aware of the garden in my role as a University of Illionis Master Gardener. Some of my colleagues were volunteering in the herb garden; another actually grew up on the property, it was her family’s farm. The park located next to the pantry grounds was the original site for my library’s annual storytelling festival. That was when I realized it would make a perfect setting for outdoor storytimes.
The storytimes are fun: filled with songs, dancing, stories, and movement. They are not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, however the location is ripe for budding young volunteers. An unexpected, but wonderful, byproduct of holding the storytimes at the pantry was that several of the families who attended the storytime became pantry volunteers. The families are invited to tour the gardens after storytime. Many are so excited about growing food to share with the community that they have become regulars at helping in the garden.
Besides the storytimes, which I conduct during the warmer months (May – October), the library also provides outreach bags for distribution to the younger pantry guests. Each month, year round, I deliver 40 or so bags. Each contains two brand new books, study and activity guides, library swag of some sort, along with newsletters and program calendars.
I have purchased the books from First Book’s Book Bank, the Scholastic Teacher Store, and have partnered with our local Half Price Books. If you’re not familiar with First Book, the book bank is a great source for purchasing multiple copies of a single title. The books are donated by the publishers, and you are only responsible to pay for the shipping. The books are sold by the case / carton. My last order, I bought 224 books, and paid $162.40 for the shipping. Cool titles arrive and disappear quickly, so selection can be random. Scholastic’s Teacher Store usually runs a $1 sale once a year, and I have taken advantage of that, too. Our local Half Price Books has been great in giving us donations, both monetary (gift cards), and material (books).
Because the pantry does not have indoor space to hold storytimes during inclement or winter weather, I move the program to another site in the village, Historic Village Hall. Other outreach locations we visit for storytimes (outside of preschools) include swim clubs, gym academies, municipal splash pads, and Panera.
I have heard about libraries conducting outreach storytimes at barber shops, farmers markets, and parks. Please share your innovative outreach ideas here!