This has been a rough summer for most of us, I think. The reality that the pandemic is not going away anytime soon has started to really sink in. We’ve seen businesses open only to shutter again after a few short weeks. The hope of school returning as normal in the fall has faded, bringing challenges to many families. It’s been a hard reality to swallow. In our community, as in many others, we are still reeling from 2019. We had significant property loss due to wild fires in the fall, and a tragic school shooting at Saugus High School on November 19, which resulted in the injury of five high school students and the death of three. We were traumatized before the pandemic hit. We are now hunkering down now for another semester of online classes, unemployment, social distancing and life in the “new normal.”
Graciously, there have been several highlights to the summer here at the Santa Clarita Public Library. My favorite by far is Lunch at the Library. This is the second year we’ve hosted the program, which is a collaboration between the State Library of California, local libraries and school food agencies. Many families rely on the free meals provided by school districts during the academic year. The summer can make it hard for families to meet their basic food needs, this year being particularly tough with unemployment so high. Lunch at the Library “provides children and teens with meals, summer reading programs, and other activities that support learning, health, and wellness. It brings new families to the library where staff can connect adult family members with essential resources and services, and it sparks and supports community collaboration.” (https://lunchatthelibrary.org/about/lunch-at-the-library-program/).
In normal years, families eat inside the library, and it’s a tremendous opportunity to offer programming and enrichment to the community. This year, we devised a “drive through” system. Each day, three or four staff members set up portable tents, traffic cones, and tables. We blasted music through our little wheeled PA system. We stuck sun hats on our heads, donned rubber gloves, and greeted our families with enthusiasm. The food agency delivered portable coolers and families cued up outside the library in their vehicles or on foot. As we handed them clam shell containers of food and cartons of milk, we had a chance to make small talk. The library supplied the community with food daily, and weekly we gave away grab and go kits of crafts or science projects. The community, in turn, supplied us with the human contact that we are all craving so much right now.
So many beautiful relationships were built as a result of Lunch at the Library. By the end of the seven weeks, we knew how many meals a particular person was going to request and who wanted to skip the milk. We learned names. We encouraged people to sign up for SRP. We ogled babies, practiced our Spanish, and even provided dog treats. One staff member, Donna, developed a friendship with Kylo Ren, a rescue dog, who would salivate every time the meals were handed over to his family. Donna started bringing dog treats. Kylo and his family were grateful and wrote some of the best thank-you cards ever sent to a public library. One begins “The art of being kind is what the world needs.”
Kindness is what we need now, and sharing meals for the body, mind and spirit with our community has been a bright spot in this very trying summer. We worked our hardest to practice the “art of kindness” with our families as we fed them. But Lunch at the Library fed our library staff as well. It nourished us with the goodness of human contact, the joy of outreach, and the satisfaction of making a small difference in a community that has had a really rough year. I am so grateful.