Suburban libraries, food bank team to feed kids lunch

Last year, the Northern Illinois Food Bank partnered with libraries in suburban Chicago to provide free summer lunches to children and teenagers.

With school ending, many children will go without their noon meal they receive for free. Filling the void and their stomachs were the goals of the program, said Elizabeth Hartman, the food bank's communications manager.

Planners didn't know what the response would be. After a few days they learned that the word “overwhelming” could not properly describe the June-to-August program.

“In total, our summer meals program served more than 245,000 meals through 125 sites across our 13-county service area,” she said. “This tells us there are a lot of hungry people in the communities.”

The response not only convinced coordinators to repeat the program this summer, but they added nine sites in Chicago's collar counties.

The Fox River Valley Library in Dundee Township will again host the program at its Barrington Avenue building starting Monday, June 4. Lunch will be served Monday through Friday from noon to 1 p.m. for youth ages 18 and younger.

The Fox Lake District Library in Lake County will join the program this year.

“The food bank offered the program to us last year, but we didn't have the staff,” said Melissa Villarreal, Fox Lake library director. “Since then, we've hired four more part-time employees to help with outreach programs.”

At the library, 255 E. Grand Ave. in Fox Lake, lunches will begin June 6 and served from noon to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays.

“(The food bank) told us participation may be small the first year,” she said. ”We don't know what to expect.”

Anticipate many hungry teens, said Lauren Rosenthal, deputy director of the Fox River Valley Library. That's what they received last year.

Word of the lunches spread as quickly as the food was eaten, she said. Thankfully, community volunteers from the Carpentersville Rotary, Revcor, Inc. and First American Bank helped serve the boxed lunches to diners, so they could eat and more could be served.

“(From June until August) we served 1,500 meals,” Rosenthal said. “Our room only has capacity for 80 people.”

Once they ate their sandwiches and fruit and drank their milk, the guests could leave or stay at the library for a program or read from the stacks of books. No conditions were placed on the meals.

Libraries were chosen for the meals because they are centrally located in communities and on main transportation lines, Hartman said. She and her colleagues know that many schools offer free breakfasts and lunches during the summer, but transportation is a problem.

“We don't compete with the school lunches. This is a federally funded program that makes food accessible during the summer,” Hartman said. “Looking at the numbers from last year tells us we are serving a need and feeding people. That's what we are here to do.”

For details about the lunches at the Fox River Valley library, call (847) 428-3661.

Information about the Wednesday lunches can be obtained from the Fox Lake District Library at (847) 587-0198.

  From left, Elizabeth Mike of Carpentersville and Kylie Saunders, 17, and her mom Lisa, both of Algonquin, help hand out lunches last summer at the Fox River Valley Library District in East Dundee. Brian Hill/, 2017
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