A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Food Center: Meeting Food Insecure Patrons Outside the Library

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on September 29, 2017

As a library, we have been long time supporters of our local food center. However, it wasn’t until the past few years that we actively began to provide programming at the center. It started as one of many places we were looking to try to share information about what the library had to offer, but it turned into something different over time. Food center clients try to get there as soon as possible to get the best selection of food on the days the center is open. That can mean people are waiting a half hour or longer to get food for their families. The food center was looking for a way to make efficient use of the wait time. It was a captive audience. They settled on trying to feed people’s minds as well as their bodies. They added library presentations to their collection of speakers who covered topics like nutrition, health, and introductions to local social service agencies.

Three times a year, library staff do end up talking specifically about what is happening in the library. This can be new activities and services, but more often it is reminding people of the many resources available at the library. This is often a more interactive presentation because people are asking questions throughout or adding bits of information to what is being talked about that they think is particularly important for the other audience members to know. Sometimes the questions are quick but sometimes they are philosophical. “Why are you doing _______,” or “What was the rationale for doing ________?” Not everyone in the audience wants to ask these questions or hear what turns out to be the long answers, but each question is equally important. Often it is the people who ask these questions that staff end up seeing in the library days or weeks after the presentation.

The remainder of the year, two types of presentations occur. Some are technology-based. Either a staff member with a technology background comes to answer individual questions about devices or they talk about helpful websites and apps. The other type of presentation can loosely be described as “saving money or extending your budget with library resources.” The idea with these programs is that a staff member takes a library resource, either a material to circulate or a service we provide, and presents it to the group to help them save money. There is always a handout with websites on the topic, but there is also a list of books or other items people need their library cards to use.

Sample presentations include:

  • What else can you do with a cake mix? Discussion centered around the library’s Cake Mix Doctor cookbooks.
  • Container Gardening – Highlighted gardening books available at the library as well as the books on upcycling.
  • It’s Time to Insulate –  This program focused on the library’s the home improvement books and DVDs.

Finding books to fit different topics is always a challenge, but it can be fun for staff to find ways to relate different materials to each other. Again what makes these presentations enjoyable for the presenter and the audience is when audience members participate, adding their knowledge and insight to the presentation. Regardless, attendees are always invited to visit the library and are always welcome. It is gratifying to library staff when people they met at the food center seek them out in the library to say hi or to ask about where to find items mentioned in presentations.

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