IOWA CITY — Children who pay a visit to the Iowa City Public Library on weekday afternoons won’t have to worry about reading, browsing or hanging out while hungry.
Thanks to a donation from Iowa City’s Zion Lutheran Church, the library earlier this month began offering a daily afternoon snack to all patrons up to age 18. The free afternoon snacks are available to children each day at 4 p.m. at the Children’s Desk.
Children’s librarian Anne Wilmoth, who was instrumental in getting the donation that made the daily snack time possible, said the initiative is part of public libraries’ evolving mission.
“One of the major values — in my view — of the public library is to serve as a community builder,” Wilmoth said. “I think that offering people food is a great way to build community and also to build a trusting relationship with people. Public libraries need to be able to recognize when there is a need in their community and respond to it, even when it’s something that you wouldn’t think a library would traditionally do.”
Wilmoth said that for a long time the library has had a kids who were regular visitors, arriving after school and sticking around until the library closed. Those children would sometimes ask for snacks and while library staff did their best to have some food on hand, it wasn’t sustainable, Wilmoth said.
“We loved having them here,” she said of the children. “But, it was clear they weren’t eating during the time they were here.”
Angela Pilkington, Children’s Services Coordinator, said the library partnered with the Iowa City Community School District last summer to offer a daily snack Monday through Friday to children ages 3 to 18. An average of 40 kids participated each day, Pilkington said. But when the program ended at the beginning of the school year, the snack options dissipated.
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“We really tried to come up with ideas as a department of what we can do, but it’s expensive going and getting food every day out of your own pocket,” Pilkington said.
An option presented itself last fall. Wilmoth is a member of Zion Lutheran Church and last fall she was approached by a member of the church’s social justice committee. Wilmoth said she was asked about ideas she had for projects or causes in the community Zion Lutheran could support. Just days earlier, Wilmoth had been asked for a snack from a library patron, so the issue was fresh in her mind. She suggested the church support a snack program and the congregation enthusiastically supported the idea.
“They have a fundraiser every year called Alternative Christmas,” Wilmoth said. “They decided to donate the money raised to the library to fund the snack program.”
Around the first of the year, members from Zion Luthern dropped off a check for more than $3,000, Pilkington said.
“Anne and I were able to go buy snacks,” she said. “This money will probably be able to last us until the end of the year.”
Pilkington said snacks include granola bars, Cheez-Its, Nutrigrain bars and cookies. Pilkington said they’ve picked up healthy snack options for the kids, but also emphasized offering a variety of appealing options to the kids.
“At the end of the day, they are kids,” she said. “I know what I wanted to eat when I came home from school. I think being able to offer them something good and fun is important, too.”
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