Trent Ernst, Editor
It’s 2:30 at the library, and the lights are out. A group of kids are gathered around the projector screen as the opening credits for the movie Tommorowland begins. One of the kids walks backs to the circulation desk and looks at a selection of food: yogurt tubes, bananas, granola bars. After a moment’s consideration, he grabs a granola bar and heads back to watch the movie.
Welcome to the new After School program at the library. Head Librarian Paula Coutts says the program was started after some discussion about the fact that there were kids around town who didn’t have enough to eat at home.
The program has been running for a few weeks now, from 2:30–3:30ish at the public library.
In addition, there are Legos, board games and, as today, movies to keep the kids entertained. Coutts says that one of their missions right now is to be flexible. “This is a trial run,” she says. “We’ll play it by ear.”
Librarian Chris Norbury has been spearheading the program. He says they’re seeing anywhere from 20 to 40 kids per day. “It depends on what’s going at the community centre,” he says. “You’d think that when kids are doing dance or yoga, there’d be fewer of them here, but they’re coming over to get a snack beforehand.”
The majority of the kids are from the elementary school. “We’ll have anywhere from five to ten teenagers here, but you know how teenagers are. They’d rather go hungry and look cool than come in and have a stigma attached to that.”
So, says Norbury, he’s been passing snacks to any of the teens that are hungry on the DL. “If I know that, I’ll put some food in a bag and give it to them on the hush. Our purpose is to feed kids, not to shame them. As part of this, I looked at what are the basic needs of people. They need a place to feel safe. We provide that. They need a place to interact socially. We provide that. And they need their basic needs met, like food. That’s three of four or five basic needs that every person needs. With the snack, we try and provide some social element. Board games, the movies. We’ve tried video games. We have our regular Wednesday club. We did painting one day. We’re just seeing what works.”
“There are some people who may not need it, but you can’t discriminate against them. We just provide a service. There’s a good number of kids whose parents aren’t working, and if we can relieve some of the financial burden on them, it’s worth it.”
It takes a tremendous amount of staff time to do this, says Coutts. “But we’ll work our way around this. We’re trying to have the program self-directed. Have the kids set up their own board games. I’m hoping some high school kids will come in and help. And we’ve had some people ask if they can volunteer, but right now we can’t say where we can put them. It’s a little more expensive to go for per-packaged snacks, like granola bars, but it cuts down on staff time.”
Fruit is the toughest, as it is perishable, and the kids want you to do something with it, says Norbury. “They will eat a sliced apple but they won’t eat a whole apple. It’s just the way kids are.
The Library has offered to invigilate the next Food Safe exam to be held in Tumbler, and there is a chance that they will get a donation to cover the cost of having some library staff take the Food Safe Course so they can start offering other foods. “We’re partnering where we can,” says Coutts, “and I’m frugal, so we’re really keeping the costs down. Darryl over at Shop Easy has been helping. He’s got us all stocked with yogurt and pudding.”
Norbury says they’re trying to keep the snacks healthy. “The pudding is the least healthy. It’s also the most popular. We want to get them something that has a decent calorie count. Fruit, vegetables. Dairy. Protein is the tough one. Your choices are wild butter, peanut butter, meat, cheese. It can be a little pricey.”
“We are doing this because there was a need expressed, and nobody is filling it,” says Coutts. “I thought we’d jump on this and see what happened. We’re hoping to get some more donations, and should be able to keep this going for at least a year.”