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Feeding Bodies to Feed Minds

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Feeding Bodies to Feed Minds

Aurora Public Library, Colo.

Health & Wellness | 2014

Innovation Synopsis

A cooperative effort between the Aurora Public Library and the USDA-funded Food Bank of the Rockies has brought nutritional afterschool meals to children in the northwest Aurora, Colorado community. This has met a need in this urban neighborhood of immigrants and refugees.


It is often challenging to market library services to refugee and economically challenged demographic populations. The northwest Aurora community, served by Aurora’s MLK, Jr. Library is home to many immigrant and refugee families. Twenty four percent of our children live in poverty. Eighty five percent receive free and reduced price lunch at area schools. Looking at these statistics, knowing that many parents in the community may work several jobs, seeking ways to make the library “a place to go to” and realizing that many of these students may not be getting adequate nutrition during the summer, the staff of the MLK, Jr. Library saw the challenge and an opportunity. The Library applied to be a host site for the Lunch Box Express where a refurbished school bus makes meal distribution visits to a number of sites in Aurora. Through this program 2779 meals were distributed between June 10 and August 2, 2013 at the MLK, Jr. Library. Because of the success of the summer program, Library applied to the Food Bank of the Rockies, a USDA sponsored food distribution program, to distribute prepacked meals and milk to the children after school. The program offers a free meal to children ages infant to 18. Not only can the school youth attend, but under-employed older youth, and teen mothers with babies can eat as well.

Key Elements of Innovation

The key elements of this innovation were:

  1. Bring refugee and challenged socioeconomic populations into the Library to expose to them and provide beneficial traditional library services.
  2. Create a mechanism and location to provide nutritional services in the summer to children that, judged by area statistics, may not be getting healthy meals.
  3. Make the library a community cornerstone for the community.

The project incorporated several challenges on a facility level. Due to the restrictions placed on the program by the USDA, a storage area for a week’s worth of food and UHT milk needed to be ascertained, staff had to be trained in USDA distribution procedures, and an area in the library that could accommodate a large group of youth needed to be found. Storage was allocated in the large interior book drop. For several months, the youth ate anywhere in the library, which proved to be problematic. Since then we have reserved one of the meeting rooms and restricted the eating to that area. Logistically this is a challenge as the meeting rooms are very popular and often meetings go head to head in scheduling.

In addition, meals need to be picked up weekly at the distribution headquarters, which necessitates borrowing a truck from one of the City departments. Staff has started planning meal-time programming, including child-oriented nutrition classes from WIC to augment the program. During the summer months the program is held outside the library in a large grassy area, and a local church provides creative activities for the children. Other departments are now requesting to be part of the program to act as daily distributors, which has increased interdepartmental cooperation.

Achieved Outcomes

Since the inception of the program, the library has distributed over 11,000 meals, demonstrating conclusively that there is a need for this service in our community. There were several goals for this program, included increased community-focused involvement and increased traffic in the Library. Library traffic has increased from 350-450 customers daily to totals that are closer to 550-600 daily. We see more parents coming in with their children at meal time, learning about opportunities in the library. In addition, the staff have become familiar with the children in the neighborhood, getting to know all of them on a first name basis. The Food Bank of the Rockies is considering making us one of their premiere sites, which means that the meals would be delivered to us and fresh food choices may be made available. With limited staffing, that will be a real plus. An unforeseen outcome was that the staff of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library were co-recipients of the City’s Spirit of Aurora Community Service Award for the program, bringing focus on the good works that the Department of Library and Cultural Service does in the community.