Thursday, July 13, 2017

Guest Post: Sloppy Joes Down in RLPL’s Lunch Bunch Land

Author: Claire Parish, Public Services Director, Rice Lake Public Library

Serving food or even allowing people to eat can be a source of tension in the library world. Having kids and teens that come to the library all day without any food is something that we probably all see though, especially in the summer. Rice Lake Public Library staff took note of this a few years ago, and three summers ago implemented a program we now call Lunch Bunch to help alleviate this issue.

RLPL has allowed food for a long time, and we have snacks at all times that we put out year round in the afternoon, typically around the time school gets out.  So it was pretty easy for us to transition to serving lunches. The first year it was funded by the Friends of the Library, and was pretty small and low key. Word got out in the community though, and we had several organizations who were willing to get involved and provide more robust meals. The Elks Club received a grant available through their club to purchase supplies for hot lunch two times a week June - August and snacks throughout the year. We also partnered with the Boys and Girls Club lunch program, so that the other three days of the week we could serve a prepackaged cold lunch.  Partnering with the Boys and Girls Club led to us also offering breakfast five days a week, an added bonus!

This does take some staff time, especially with the hot lunch.  The food is brought in by members of the Elks Club and served by library staff.  This year, we are lucky to have a volunteer for a neighboring business serve one day, and I’m sure it would be easy to find a volunteer for the other day, but I actually love doing it!  It gives me a chance to chat with all of the kids coming through the line, get to know them better, and make sure that they feel welcome and safe at the library. The cold lunch days are definitely easier, we just set the bags out on our desk and kids can come up and grab them. The clean-up takes about 10 minutes and we (knock on wood!) really haven’t had any major messes left by anyone!

Not only has this program been wonderful in feeding the kiddos who stay with us all day, it has been a great way to form relationships with more of our patrons and create lasting partnerships with some key community organizations.  I’d be happy to answer any questions or provide more details about the program!

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