Blogger Abby Johnson

Food Pantry Storytime

Earlier this year, my library opened a food pantry as one of the services we offer. It’s been a huge success, a lot of work but a huge payoff for our patrons. Last month, I hosted a food pantry storytime to help promote our pantry. I don’t get to do storytime too often anymore and it was a lot of fun. Here’s what we did!

First I thought about why…

Who was my target audience for this program? Why did I want to offer it? I decided that my main priority was reaching families who might benefit from the food pantry. And a secondary target audience would be people curious about food pantries or potential donors. This shaped how I planned the program and who we marketed it to.

Next I figured out what…

What would I do for my food pantry storytime? I knew that I wanted to include a book that normalized shopping at a food pantry. Play needed to be a big part of the program. I wanted to offer a tour of the food pantry to anyone interested. I decided that one way to attract my target audience was to offer a free lunch. If we’re going to offer a free lunch, I also wanted to offer a free book.

How could I make those things happen?

First, I reached out to our library staff who run the pantry and they quickly agreed to offer tours and be on hand to answer any questions about the pantry. I got approval for my budget and decided to purchase food that families could take home rather than trying to serve lunch. We had giveaway books leftover from summer, so I raided that supply to curate a cart of books families could choose from. I started researching and brainstorming play activities that would go with my food pantry storytime.

I put in a marketing request and our pantry staff helped distribute flyers to places families might find them. And I started planning my storytime!

My food pantry storytime plans

Opening Song: Hello, Friends with signs. I like using this opening song when I have a mixed age group of kids. It’s simple enough that young kids can sing along and engaging enough that older kids are interested.

Book: Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora – I wanted to start us off with a book that showed people helping each other. This colorful picture book shows warm and giving Omu sharing her delicious stew with everyone in the neighborhood. Then when she has nothing left for dinner, everyone in the neighborhood shows up to say thank you and bring her some of their food. The repetitive structure is perfect for predicting what will happen next and I engage kids with this by having them knock (or stomp their feet) whenever someone new comes to the door.

Song: Bananas Unite! – I wanted to include some action songs in between the books to give kids a chance to get out any wiggles. This is a fun food-related one that gets kids up and moving and is good for a range of ages.

Book: Saturday at the Food Pantry by Diane O’Neill. This is actually the book that sparked my idea for this storytime. In this book, Molly accompanies her mom to shop at a food pantry after experiencing hunger. I chose this book because it normalizes going to a food pantry. It doesn’t shy away from the emotions that kids and parents might feel in needing a food pantry, but emphasizes many times that everyone needs help sometimes.

Book: Hot Pot Night by Vincent Chen. I chose this book because it has a fun, bouncy rhythm and a lot of great vocabulary. It’s also a sweet story about neighbors gathering to cook a meal together, each one contributing an ingredient that adds up to a whole meal. It’s a short, rhythmic book and works well for a wide range of ages.

I ended my food pantry storytime here because we had a pretty small group and they were ready to move on to play time. But I had also pulled the book Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki and a couple more action songs from Jbrary: Bread On My Head and Hot Sauce Wiggle in case I needed them.

Play stations!

I put together several play stations for our play time. Not only is play an important (and fun!) part of learning, but I wanted to have something for kids to do in case their adult wanted to talk to us about the food pantry. These were the play stations I put together:

  • Building with recycled boxes. I asked staff to collect their clean, empty food boxes for me and our teen volunteers taped them up so we could build with them. I love this for a cheap activity that would be easy for families of any income to replicate at home.
  • Pretend Kitchen. I brought in some of my old kitchen utensils and tools and set up a pretend kitchen.
  • Writing station. I printed out some coloring sheets and activities from for kids to work on. I also printed out pretend grocery lists and put them on clipboards for kids to explore.

This is great, but my library doesn’t have a food pantry…

That’s okay! If you wanted to do a program like this, you could reach out to your local food pantry. See if they have someone who could come talk to families about what food pantries are and how to use them. Or pack up this storytime and take it on the road. Is there a place where families wait to get food or other services? Consider bringing a storytime to them while they wait!

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