Libraries Join the Fight Against Hunger

Libraries Join the Fight Against Hunger

When you reach for a piece of fruit to snack on, you may not give it much thought. Most of us are used to being able to pop into our local grocery store to pick up just about any fruit or vegetable we can think of. However, some people do not have the luxury of purchasing fresh produce — and they live right here in the United States.


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It may be hard to imagine a problem like this in a country known to be one of the wealthiest in the world. But unfortunately, some people in America live in areas referred to as food deserts. This term was coined to describe neighborhoods where residents are unable to access fresh, healthy foods. Most of these communities do not have conveniently located supermarkets, so residents primarily purchase their groceries from local convenience stores, dollar stores, or even gas stations. This often means their diet consists mainly of packaged, processed foods, many of which provide little to no nutritional value. And it is not simply a matter of having to drive further to go food shopping. Food deserts tend to be in rural, low-income areas where people do not necessarily own vehicles and must walk or take public transportation to get to the store.

While this is an ongoing, year-round problem, initiatives to help address the issue are most prevalent around Thanksgiving, when most of us are planning for our holiday feasts. One such initiative, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, takes place November 13–21 this year. In the spirit of giving thanks and expressing gratitude for all that we have in our lives, it is crucial that we find ways to give back by helping those in need.

As the heart of the community, public libraries always strive to support their residents. And to help fight hunger and food insecurity, librarians are coming up with new and clever solutions. They realize that hunger is not just about having enough food in your belly but also about having balanced nutrition to maintain your health and well-being. Check out how these libraries are helping to bring fresh, wholesome foods to their communities.

If you’ve ever been told as a child to clean your plate because other children in the world are starving, you are familiar with the concept of not wasting food. It would probably shock you to know how much food is tossed away each day despite millions of Americans struggling to put enough food on the table. Librarians recognized this disparity and set to work addressing the conflict of food waste and food insecurity in their communities. Instead of disposing of excess produce, farmers are working with their local libraries to bring that food to people who need it most.

In partnership with Comfort Food Community and Capitol Roots’ Squash Hunger Program, the South Adirondack Library System runs a Farm-2-Library program at ten of their branches. Families can visit their library to pick up fruits and vegetables at no cost. It’s a win-win for hungry families and local farms, and it also helps strengthen community ties.

The vast majority of food deserts are in rural areas where the closest supermarket may be more than a 20-minute drive away. This can make it challenging for some families to access fresh foods regularly, especially if they do not own a vehicle.

To help combat this issue, Snap-Ed and the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health joined forces with the Richland Library and their local farms to hold a weekly farmer’s market enabling families to purchase fresh produce right in their own neighborhood. To make fresh fruits and vegetables even more accessible to all of their community members, many of the vendors also accept SNAP benefits.

When food banks work together with public libraries, patrons get more convenient access to the food their families need. Some families may struggle with transportation to their local food bank, and mobile food pantries at the library can help solve this problem.

The Cuyahoga County Public Library has teamed up with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank to host mobile food pantries at six different branches to make it easier for residents throughout the county to access food.

Over in Georgia, the South Cobb Regional Library is partnering with the Atlanta Community Food Bank to provide a drive-thru food pantry twice monthly, offering families a generous helping of fresh produce along with shelf-stable pantry staples.

In addition to helping put food on their community members’ tables, libraries are also empowering their patrons with the skills and resources they need to start vegetable gardens. For those who find it challenging to access fresh food, learning how to grow their own fruits and vegetables is invaluable.

The Erie County Public Library in Pennsylvania houses seed libraries at two of their branches. Patrons can check out seed packets along with growing instructions, and once they harvest their fruits and veggies, they dry their seeds and return them to the library to be checked out by another family. The library also offers online how-to videos and a Self-Reliance Series that teaches helpful skills such as canning and preserving foods to support patrons as they try to develop a green thumb.

If you or someone you know is struggling to keep their family nourished with fresh, healthy foods, reach out to your local library to find out if they are involved in any initiatives like those mentioned above. Even if your neighborhood library hasn’t yet started such a program, they may be able to connect you with other resources in your area to help you access the food you need.

On the other hand, if you are involved in a food-based business or know someone who is, consider any possible food waste and how you can work together with your local library to bring that food to the people who need it most.