You might wonder why such a title is appearing on a librarian’s blog. What does feeding the hungry have to do with libraries?
Quite a bit, my friends. Quite a bit.
Libraries are a public institution, which means our doors are open to anyone and everyone. The only people not permitted through the doors are unaccompanied children (in which case we will try to locate their guardian) and escaped criminals (and even then a good reference librarian might try to connect them to a reference title on criminal law or a guidebook on free travel). Even immigrants with a Visa and no English language skills can use the library (in fact, we encourage them to do so! “Check out Mango Languages, it will help you learn English”)
We warmly accept noisy families and their inquisitive children, the elderly with their endless requests for computer help, and the general public’s need for new titles, ILL, DVDs, and vending machines.
Why then don’t we accept the homeless? Those who perhaps don’t have good hygiene (due to a lack of access to services), who nod off while reading the newspaper, who spend every hour that we are open on a computer, sitting in a comfy chair, or walking around the building. These people exist, whether you are aware of it or not, whether you want to help them or not.
I have chosen to help.
Almost immediately after I started my position as Teen Librarian at the Rust Library I noticed the hungry teens. Not the growing boys who are constantly in need of sustenance, but the kids who spend 11 hours a day at the library and subsist off the peanut butter crackers/pretzels/granola bars that we pass out as snacks (thanks to a very healthy budget for programming given to us by our library board). When I first mentioned to my hoard of teens in the beginning of summer, “Perhaps you should consider bringing food from home if you know you’re going to spend all day here,” a few took heed and do just that. A handful of others, though, cannot afford to do so. One young girl responded, “We don’t have money for that,” as though it were the most natural thing to say.
That comment, in addition to the observations I have made regarding these few young people, led me to take action. Having spent over six years working with my mom at her food pantry in Southern Maryland, I was aware of what resources could be available in the area. I set out to fit what was available, and even asked friends for advice. Maybe they had an idea?
Quite a few of them came through with great suggestions, some of which I had thought of (but of course, hearing it from someone else validates the idea as good one) but others that were surprises. Some ideas were: set up a community garden, put the teens in charge of a fundraiser for getting food to food banks (which raises their own awareness to the issue of hunger and helps the community/their peers at the same time!), get local restaurants to donate food in conjunction with a program (something cultural, perhaps? or a cooking demo?). I am so thankful to my friends for their advice and will be working on putting some of those ideas into action in the near future.
My next step was to contact the Mobile Hope Van (actually a giant bus) based out of INOVA Hospital that parks in community parking lots and invites young people to come on and get food, clothing, and resources…no questions asked. The women at the office were just as saddened at my observations as I was and they leapt into action. Within a couple hours I had a basket of fresh fruit and trail mix to give to these teens in need. The next day they delivered 8 lunch boxes, each containing a large sandwich, chips, cookie, and a drink, on top of another bag of popcorn and hygiene products. At that time we established a date in August when they will park their bus in my library’s parking lot in hopes of getting resources to teens before school starts.
…And that is where I am at today. Everything moved very quickly and I can’t believe I have had so much happen in less than a week! I am so thankful for how much support I have received, but I know that it is only one very small step. There is so much more I can do, librarians across the country can do, to feed those who can’t feed themselves.
**To all of you who don’t think it is the job of the librarian to find food for hungry people. You are right. It is not my job as a librarian to do so. But it is my duty as a human being with compassion for others to find food for hungry people. Someday you or someone you love might be hungry; and someone like me and the INOVA Mobile Health will be there for you.
If you want to help but don’t know where to start, send me an email at april.pavis [at] loudoun.gov I would love to help!