Glen Ellyn library to help hungry kids this summer
The second-grade boy had transferred to a new school in Glen Ellyn. At the end of his first week, he approached his teacher with a question no educator wants to hear: "What am I going to eat on the weekend?"
The boy had asked if she had a backpack to send home with him, filled with snacks, nutrition he likely received at his previous school to feed kids outside of cafeteria hours.
Without such a backpack, the teacher reached out to Penny Linneweh, a Glen Ellyn woman who has taken it upon herself to address childhood hunger in Glen Ellyn.
"I immediately went to the food pantry and packed him a snack pack," Linneweh said.
She will be packing far more of those snack packs this summer and sharing the story of the second-grade boy to anyone who might be surprised there are hungry kids in her affluent town.
Linneweh is treasurer of the Glen Ellyn Kiwanis Club and one of the organizers of a new effort to provide take-home snack packs to children and teens who receive lunches at the Glen Ellyn Public Library over the summer.
The meals -- and now the snack packs -- fill the gap for students who are from low-income households and lose access to free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches they rely on during the school year.
Roughly 23 percent of students are considered low-income in Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41, and in Glen Ellyn Elementary District 89, the total is about 17 percent, according to 2018 Illinois School Report Card data.
Last year, the library served lunches as an "open site" in the Northern Illinois Food Bank's Summer Meal Program. That means families don't have to register, and anyone 18 or younger can receive free and healthy lunches every weekday from June 10 through Aug. 9.
During those weeks, the library will distribute drawstring backpacks full of snacks from the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry inside Grace Lutheran Church. Five area service organizations -- the Kiwanis Club of Glen Ellyn, Kiwanis Club of Greater DuPage, Glen Ellyn Junior Woman's Club, Glen Ellyn Lions Club, and The Rotary Club of Glen Ellyn -- are contributing volunteers to fill the backpacks for two hours every Monday afternoon at the food pantry. Those service clubs also have contributed roughly $1,200 to the food pantry to offset the costs of snacks, Linneweh said.
The library also nourishes young minds over the summer with "Bus to Books."
"I see it as filling the opportunity gap. We provide transportation, which is often a barrier for people getting to the library, especially during the day," said Amy Waters, the library's school liaison.
At-risk students from Glen Ellyn take buses with trusted adults -- teachers or school administrators -- to the library to take part in the same programming as their peers and to check out books and movies.
"They're participating in summer reading," said Executive Director Dawn Bussey, who also is volunteering to stuff backpacks. "They're participating in activities that we have in the youth department."
Starting June 18, about 120 "Bus to Books" students will receive the lunches and backpacks each week. Another 50 or so students have lunches at the library each week in June to early August.
Without the backpacks, the library can't let children take items out of lunch areas for food safety reasons, Bussey said.
"That's very, very difficult when you know they're going to be hungrier again later that day," she said.
The "summer snackpack project" draws inspiration from a Kiwanis program started by Linneweh in fall 2018 to distribute nearly 100 backpacks of snacks a week during the school year for students at the Glen Ellyn Children's Resource Center, a nonprofit group that provides after-school tutoring and mentoring.
"I've gotten pretty good over the years at putting programs together," said Linneweh, a former Kiwanis Illinois-Eastern Iowa governor.
So much so that Linneweh is expanding the packing schedule to bring take-home snacks every Friday morning to Briar Glen and Park View elementary schools starting this fall. Volunteers keep the food-stuffed backpacks light enough so a kindergartner can carry one.
And the second-grade boy? Linneweh and her husband will personally bring backpacks to his school for him, his younger sibling and three other children on Fridays until school's out for summer.
"I don't want any child to be hungry, and it benefits all of us when our children are fed so they can learn," she said.