"Once word of your library’s welcoming attitude and comfortable environment starts to spread, your community begins to see you as a trusted institution. We are meeting the needs of our entire community! ”
Located in Peckville, Pennsylvania (Lackawanna County) and serving a diverse population of 33,000, the Valley Community Library was looking to position itself as a community center for parents and children. The library joined the Family Place Network in 2009. The Parent-Child Workshop and the welcoming, interactive Family Place space attracted many new families and the library quickly became a community destination for families with young children.
Partnering with resource professionals for the Parent Child Workshop was a starting point for greater library community collaboration and the recognition of the library as an important community partner. When the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO) along with the Weinberg Food Pantry were looking to extend the free school lunch program into the summer months and needed a distribution site, the library was already on their radar screen. The CEO and the Weinberg Food Pantry approached the library to assist them with this effort, feeling that the library was a perfect family-friendly location in which to conduct the program.
Head of Children’s Services, Karen Slachta was thrilled. “We were delighted that they thought of us as a potential partner for this program. However, knowing the communities as well as we do, we knew that their target population lives at least 3-6 miles from the library and might not be able to come to the library on a daily basis to get their meals. We suggested taking this initiative to the local housing projects,” said Ms. Slachta.
Seizing the opportunity, Mr. Slatka, working in collaboration with the CEO and Weinberg Food Pantry, contacted the Housing Authority in hopes of building an initiative that would not only provide summer lunches, but allow the library regular access to the families living in the apartments. “We knew we had to propose the summer lunch program. This was the perfect collaboration among a variety of local organizations and it would serve a large number of families,” said Ms. Slachta.
The Housing Authority welcomed the idea of library staff coming into the housing projects and the initiative took off. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, lunches from the Weinberg Food Pantry were delivered to the Valley Community Library. Library staff loaded their cars with lunches, books, and an art activity and headed out to housing projects located in their immediate service area. The librarians set up in any available space within the housing projects and served lunch, while doing activities with the children.
“Through this project, we gained new library users. After seeing us at their homes, they came to the library to get cards and began taking advantage of our programs, materials and services. For many families, visiting the library required taking a bus and then walking two blocks—but this was no longer a deterrent. After forming relationships with the lunch program librarians and making that initial library visit, families recognized the value of the library and visited frequently,” said Ms. Slachta.
Lackawana County quickly began calling this the “Projects Project” and residents of the housing projects began taking ownership of the initiative and volunteering to distribute the meals. This alleviated the burden on library staff. The initiative continued to grow and is now an ongoing project through the Housing Authority in all of Lackawanna County.
“Every family in the local housing projects has library cards and utilizes the library. Families throughout the entire county come to our library and we are now known as the library that helped give back to our community,” said Slachta.