Dundee library's free lunch program a hit
When Fox River Valley Public Library District employees started their free lunch program last week, they didn't know how many children and teens they would serve.
They had enough turkey sandwiches and peaches for 50 children and 75 showed up.
"When we ran out of food, we gave them peanut butter and crackers," said Roxane Bennett, library director. "There were some kids who didn't like the grape tomatoes, so we put them on a sharing table for others to eat."
Instead of feeling embarrassed for running out of food, the employees and volunteers at the library's East Dundee site walked away from the first day of the summer program on Monday better educated.
"We learned there's a lot of hungry kids, and we were glad we could fill the void," she said.
Summer recess created the void. When classes are in session, students have access to government-funded breakfasts and lunches for students. The meals continue at many of the Community Unit District 300 schools during the summer, but students must find their own rides to sit at the tables.
That's where the library's free lunch program comes into play.
The library's program is not competing with the school district's program; it's just reaching out to kids who live near the Route 68 library.
"We have been looking at (the free lunch) program for a few years," Bennett said. "We knew about the (summer school lunch program), but up until this year we were not equipped to provide anything.
This year, the hurdles went away. Library staff members we were able to team up with the Northern Illinois Food Bank and some community groups to offer a basic meal of sandwiches, fruit and milk.
The Carpentersville Rotary Club and local businesses raised money and bought a large refrigerator to keep the milk and some perishable items cold. The food bank agreed to provide the lunches.
With the demand, Bennett does not expect to have much food left over in the refrigerator. Each Monday through Friday until Aug. 14, they will order 100 boxed lunches.
"We can't accommodate any more because we don't have the room, and we can't feed any adults," she said. "This program is for children from preschool to high-school age."
Lunch is served from noon to 1 p.m.
Local library employees rely heavily on the food bank because it has been offering free summer lunches and some breakfasts for five years, said Elizabeth Gartman, its communications manager.
Thirteen of those sites are in libraries throughout the northern Fox Valley. Others are at churches and park districts.
Feeding children in summer has traditionally been a challenge, she said. Serving meals in libraries and other community buildings "casts a wide net" on meeting the challenge closer to children's homes.
"We've always relied on community groups to help us get closer to the need," Gartman said. "When a library is able to feed a child, it is able to connect with him or her."
Eighty percent of the food offered is donated. They rest, such as milk, is paid by grants. Just as Fox River Valley Libraries employees count on the food bank for the food, the food bank employees rely on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and grants to administer and pay for the program.
Families are not required to register for the free lunches at the East Dundee library, and they are not required to attend a program before or after the food is served.
"We do offer programs before and after the lunches. Children are always invited to stay and participate with them," Bennett said.
For details about the free lunch program in East Dundee, call the library at (847) 428-3661. For information about other free meal programs in the Northern Fox Valley, call Gartman at (630) 443-6910.