public libraries food insecurity

According to the USDA’s latest Household Food Insecurity in the United States report, more than 35 million people in the United States experienced hunger in the year 2019. And that number may have even shot up much higher to 42 million people last year during the pandemic.

And yet, across the United States, in major cities you’ve heard of, and in countless places you most likely have never considered, public librarians are working with local, state, and national partners to bring food to those who need it.

Wait — librarians?

Yes indeed. And, when librarians distribute food, they do more than merely give it away.

They also use the library’s myriad educational and lifelong learning resources to integrate culinary literacy into library programming, so families and individuals don’t just leave with food, they leave with the knowledge needed to know what to do with it.

As trusted members of nearly every community in the United States (and in much of the rest of the world), public librarians are uniquely positioned to support food access and food literacy.

Last week Shareable and Let’s Move in Libraries hosted a free interactive dialogue with librarians who manage farmers’ markets, summer feeding programs, community fridges, and culinary literacy centers to build a greater understanding of the unique roles of local librarians in community food systems and, hopefully, to inspire some new community collaborations with libraries.

If you care about food, health, or community development, this recording is for you.

Below you will find the audio, video, and full transcript from the event in addition to bios from each of the presenters. Please get in touch with Let’s Move in Libraries if you have any questions or would like to learn more about how to get engaged with your local library:


  • Patrice Chamberlain, MPH (Master’s of Public Health), former Director of California Summer Meals Coalition and current Lead of “Lunch at the Library,” California Library Association
  • Leighan Cazier, Experience Support Specialist, Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina
  • Erica Freudenberger, Outreach & Engagement Consultant at the Southern Adirondack Library System and co-founder of “Fresh Food Collective Farm-2-Library initiative”
  • Aurora Sanchez, Coordinator of the Healthy Communities program at the Free Library of Philadelphia
  • Curated by Noah Lenstra, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science, University of North Carolina Greensboro, Director of Let’s Move in Libraries
  • Moderated by Tom Llewellyn, Strategic Partnerships Director,, and co-founder of the Asheville Tool Library

This is event was co-presented by UNC Greensboro School of Education, Let’s Move in Libraries, and


Tom Llewellyn: Hello, my name is Tom Llewellyn. I’m the strategic partnerships director at, which is a nonprofit media outlet, action network and consultancy that empowers communities to share for a more resilient, equitable and joyful world. And on behalf of Shareable, Let’s Move in Libraries, University of North Carolina Greensboro School of Education, and our event curator, Noah Lenstra, I would like to welcome you all to today’s event.

According to the USDA’s latest Household Food Insecurity in the United States report, more than 35 million people in the United States experienced hunger in the year 2019. And that number may have even shot up much higher to 42 million people last year during the pandemic. And yet across America, in major cities that you’ve heard of and countless places that you probably haven’t, public librarians are working with local, state, and national partners to bring food to those who need it. As trusted members of nearly every community in the United States, and in much more of the rest of the world as we’ve seen, as we’ve got some international people joining us as well, public librarians are uniquely positioned to support food access and food literacy.

So today we’re hosting this discussion with librarians, and non-librarians, who manage farmer’s markets, summer feeding programs, community fridges and a whole lot more to build a greater understanding of the unique roles of local librarians in community food systems and hopefully to inspire some new community collaborations with libraries. And so we’re going to begin today with a series of short presentations from each of our speakers before we open it up into more of an interactive dialogue.

So today, our featured speakers are Patrice Chamberlain, who’s the former director of California Summer Meals Coalition and the co-developer of the Lunch at the Library program for the California Library Association. We have Aurora Sanchez, who’s the coordinator of the Healthy Communities Program at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Leighan Cazier, who’s the experience support specialist at the Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. And Erica Freudenberger, who’s the outreach and engagement consultant at the Southern Adirondack Library system and the co-founder of the Fresh Food Collective Farm to Library Initiative. So I think we’re going to start with with Erica, if you’re ready to begin.

Erica Freudenberger: Terrific, thank you so much, Tom. Shout out to Tom and Noah for bringing us together to talk about the role the public libraries can play in addressing food insecurity. So what do you get when you combine de-gleaned veggies, rural libraries, and a passion for sharing? In our case, it’s our Farm to Library program, which is designed to create healthy, resilient communities.

So, my background is prior to coming to libraries, which is a third or fourth career for me, I spent time as the world’s worst waitress, I founded an independent bookstore, I worked as a community organizer and a journalist. So to me, the next logical step in organizing people to build the world they want to live in was to become a librarian. I now work with 34 libraries in four counties in the Adirondacks region of New York, which is several hours north of New York City and very rural. So I want to help people become better readers. But here’s the thing. People who might benefit from getting their high school equivalency certification or learning English don’t necessarily consider the library as a resource or even a place that’s for them. Libraries can be really intimidating if you’re not comfortable with the written word or the English language. At the same time, if you’re struggling to get food on the table, how do you make time to become a better reader?

So we started thinking about this and decided to collaborate with two local food banks, Comfort Food Community in Greenwich, New York, and the Capitol Roots Squash Hunger Program in Albany, New York, to address food waste, food access, food insecurity, and adult literacy challenges. Our model embraces whole systems thinking and considers the impact of food waste on the planet. We tap into existing resources and collaborate with our partners to ensure that people can get fresh food. We begin by gleaning food — excess food — from local farms. And to put this in context, 20 billion pounds of produce is lost on farms each year. And I should say, a lot of that is in agribusiness, and what I’m talking about in our region are small local family farms. So we’re only rescuing like tens of thousands of pounds of food from local farms. But it’s a chance for us to model how to steward and share resources.

According to the Rural Sociological Society, 98 percent of food deserts in this country are in non-metropolitan areas. And many of our libraries serve communities that are in rural food deserts. And that’s specifically what we’re trying to address. A rural food desert means that grocery shopping is often taking place at a dollar store or a gas station. There aren’t any grocery stores within walking distance. And in our region, we have no public transportation. Uber and all those other things do not exist where we live. For families that have a car, they may have one car and that’s used for getting to work. So having a chance to get to a grocery store that could be up to at least 20 to 30 minutes away is really difficult.

We piloted the farm to library program with one library in 2017 and have been growing it steadily. And we now have ten libraries in three counties sharing food. And in our first quarter of 2021, we’ve shared nearly 8000 pounds of food with more than 1000 of our friends and neighbors, which makes us super happy. It’s also more than we shared in the first year or two of our program. And it’s really exciting to see how it impacts people’s lives. One woman came into the Pember Library in Granville, New York, really excited. She was in her 70s and she just had her first taste of a fresh beet.

While this work benefits our local community, it also corresponds with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Our experience demonstrates that any size library can do this work. We’re committed to sustainable consumption and production patterns, reducing inequalities and contributing to the improved health and well-being of our communities. And as a bonus, we get to see new faces in our library, which is awesome. So if all goes according to my grand evil plan, we’re going to save the planet, feed the people and be better readers. I really believe that we can change the world one community and one library at a time. And what could be more delicious than that? If you want to know more or share your story, please get in touch.

Tom Llewellyn: Thanks, Erica. And just as a direct follow up, I’m wondering if you can talk about specifically how you’ve done the outreach in communities about the program.

Erica Freudenberger: So, what’s interesting to me is that, I was talking to Noah earlier today, one of our new libraries that just came on, Stillwater, started two weeks ago on Monday. They hadn’t had a chance to do anything but to put a note on Facebook. And by Wednesday of that week, two days later, 44 families had already been in and taken all the food that was there. What we found, while we have developed some marketing materials, we have bookmarks and rack cards that we put out in places like post offices, laundromats, doctors’ offices, social services agencies, onestly, there’s very little we have to do to promote it. Word spreads very quickly. We’re working with a really well networked population and everybody just kind of lets their friends and neighbors know about it. And I also want to be really clear. We’re sharing food with — anybody can come in and take anything for any reason. We have seniors who come in and take one potato for their dinner for the night. Anybody who’s there is welcome to take it. There’s no qualifications. This is really about removing stigma and sharing food.

Tom Llewellyn: Great. Thank you. And I think with that, we’re going to move on to Leighan.

Leighan Cazier: Hi, I’m Leighan Cazier, I’m an experience support specialist here at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina, which is the capital of South Carolina. I’d like to talk to you a little bit today about our farmers market that we have here. I’m going to do sort of a high level overview, and I hope that we have some time during our discussion that I can talk about specific nuts and bolts about how we get it going.

The genesis of our farmer’s market here began with the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. They piloted a program to use public libraries to try to improve access to healthy foods among our population here. That began in 2017 and it began here at Richland Library with our former director, who is no longer here, ut she was approached by the School of Public Health to see if Richland Library would like to pilot a farmer’s market here. There were a few others in the state, but we were the first ones here in the midlands of South Carolina. Richland County, according to a twenty nineteen study, is about double the poverty rate of the national average. So this was exactly the right spot for us to pilot a market.

Our library’s core mission is to connect people with resources. So we want people to have access to information, entertainment, and, of course, good health. So it was difficult to begin at first because we thought about the fact that, can we do a farmer’s market at a public library? Is this a retail market? And we had difficulty with that. But because we have a programmatic effort that tries to connect customers to all of these programs, we decided that, yes, we could do this. And so customers have access to fresh food, we strengthen our community by connecting our vendors with customers, and we develop a relationship with vendors as well. And we also have the ability, because of our relationship with USC and the fact that we do have some in-house social workers, that we can coordinate customers being able to use snap benefits to purchase food here at the library. We also try to make a point of having our vendors also accept snap benefits. And that’s something that USC helps us with.

Now a little bit of the nuts and bolts. We began our pilot farmer’s market here at our main library. That’s our largest location. We are a library system of 13 locations spread out throughout a fairly large county. So we go from a very urban area, which is where I am now, to very rural communities as well. We decided to pilot it here because it is central area of the city. We have very good public transportation here. We do have a large area that we can set up indoors for our market. And I don’t know if any of you know about South Carolina summers, but it gets very, very hot and very, very humid. The market next week is supposed to be a hundred degrees. And we do have our social work office located in our main location.

By 2019, we had expanded to two additional locations in our system. I will say that COVID made things a bit difficult for us. We did miss our entire 2020 season because we were not open to the public at that time. And as of this year, as of April, we reopened our market here at our main location, but we have not opened our smaller markets at some of our smaller branches. As I said, we do have the resource, we are very lucky to have in social work department, and they do come to our market and assist customers with signing up for SNAP benefits. USC also is in an advisory role at this point, so they will help customers sign up for SNAP benefits. They help our vendors navigate through the process of becoming vendors who accept retail SNAP payments. And USC also functions in an advisory role for us in that they check on all of the licensing that’s necessary for selling food and they also help us just vet vendors. There is a difficulty with trying to make sure that there’s no favoritism shown. So they function in a consulting role for that.

I want to just talk about a few other of our nutritional initiatives here in Richland Library. During COVID, we established a Library of Things, and in that library of things, which customers can request online and pick up curbside or come in to pick up. Right now we do have seed bundles so that customers can start gardens of their own. We also have various pieces of gardening equipment. At one of our locations we have a community garden, so we do some gardening programs there. We also pick some of the produce that is grown there and make it available for customers. And it was very helpful to have that garden because when we established the Library of Things and we had the various pieces of equipment, we were able to film some videos to share with customers about how to use the equipment. We also function as a summer food service program in some of our locations. So during the summers they make food available for teens and children on just a walk-in basis. We have formed a partnership with one of the local churches that was involved in it, and that’s a USDA program. And thanks so much. I look forward to being able to discuss a little bit more about our markets with you during this conversation.

Tom Llewellyn: Yeah, thanks, Leighan. And before we we transition away, I’m wondering if you can just kind of touch on what were some of the initial challenges of getting your pilot off the ground? I’m sure it was kind of a new idea for the community, and whenever there are new ideas that are presented, it sometimes takes some finagling. So what were some of the earlier hurdles that you had to get over?

Leighan Cazier: I think it was less of a challenge for the community and more for the library as a whole just to try to reposition ourselves as having a retail market in our spaces. Again, our finance department was concerned about becoming a retail space, and I will say that I was not here for the genesis of all of this — I’ve been here two years, so I have one market season under my belt at this point. We did begin our market with one produce vendor and reliability was an issue. Also, we decided to move away from a produce wholesaler, which is what they were, and we have moved more toward using local farmers who use organic practices. And that’s something we’ve definitely moved toward. I mean, of course, the challenge always is, with libraries or any other kind of organization, who will do this and who will have time to do this. And I really do think that at this point we’re pretty much a well-oiled machine and it truly does not take a lot of staff time or effort. And I’m happy to talk about that if anyone has questions about it, because I think that that is something that a lot of libraries or organizations who would like to have a farmer’s market, and would like to implement it, have those concerns,

Tom Llewellyn: Aurora, we had talked about at the beginning that we were going to be hearing from librarians and non-librarians. And we started with two librarians, and now we’re going to hear from two, quote unquote, depending on who you ask, non-librarians. And Aurora, we’ll start with you.

Aurora Sanchez: Good afternoon. It’s afternoon where I am. So good afternoon, everyone. As Tom said, my name is Aurora Sanchez. I work for the Free Library of Philadelphia. The program that I work on at the Free Library of Philadelphia is called Healthy Communities. So, the Free Library of Philadelphia’s mission, like so many other libraries, right, we’re focused on advancing literacy, learning, curiosity and just encouraging lifelong learning. But the Culinary Literacy Center in particular, focuses on literacy through food and engagement with community.

So this particular project, Healthy Communities, is done in partnership with the larger city of Philadelphia. We’re funded by the Department of Public Health. And through this funding, we are able to increase our capacity to offer health and wellness programming throughout the city of Philadelphia. So the Free Library of Philadelphia includes fifty four libraries, and we partner with just a handful of them. But we’re a city with over 1.5 Million people. As a whole, the city is sort of split almost down the middle between folks who are black or of African descent and white folks. We also have a small population of Latinx community members and also Asian community members, 14 percent of the citizens of the city are born out in the wider world and come here. And almost a quarter of our population are living through poverty.

Overall, our neighborhoods might be as much as like 89 percent black or folks of African descent. They might be as much as almost 60 percent Latinx, with the exception of one of our libraries that we have partnered with exclusively during the pandemic because of their interest in our programming. That is kind of what we’re doing here. And with those 54 libraries throughout the city, that means just about wherever you are, you’re within a mile or a mile and a half of a library. So that just gives you some context of how our city is laid out.

So no really fancy slides, just a little bit of somebody cooking some food and a library in North Philadelphia. But I’ll tell you a little bit about what we do as far as food access, culinary traditions and community chefs. So, this year, in particular, healthy communities has done probably about 60 programs online. About a third of our programming has been culinary programming. Our culinary programming is our most popular programming, but we also do physical activity programming. So, we do yoga programming, we do strength training programming. It was beautiful to hear about all that gardening programming. That was something that we used to do pre-pandemic at this library right here.

But a lot of our focus is on food access. We give gift cards for participation in our programs. My sister programs, The Healthy Communities is one of three programs under the Culinary Literacy Center. My sister programs are Nourishing Literacy and Edible Alphabet. So Nourishing Literacy has the mission of providing community-oriented, multidisciplinary, interactive programming for youth, educators, and caregivers. So the primary focus of that program is young people and supporting the folks around young people and making cooking engaging for them. Edible Alphabet, as you may suspect, is an English language learning program. So there’s a focus on vocabulary, grammar, listening and speaking, reading and writing in English with delicious hands on cooking programs.

So, through our programs, we do food distributions, as a collective body w do food distributions, we give out gift cards. We focus on recipes that are affordable. And sometimes that means very simple ingredients that can be prepared in multiple different ways. One of our partners, or one of the organizations that we partner with, is called Oldways. Maybe you are familiar with Oldways, but Oldways has to curriculums that we use, A Taste of African Heritage and A Taste of Latin American Heritage. And those programs focus on culinary food traditions, but also the food is predominantly vegan, low salt, low fat. And so it’s about eating culturally relevant foods that are inherent and naturally healthy.

We average about 15 participants per program online so far this year. Yeah, and that’s a lot of what we’ve been able to figure out. Our chefs that we work with, they may be community members that we’ve trained. So, in 2018, we trained about 18 community members. We partnered with an organization in New York called Just Food to train folks. They came down and did, again, a culturally relevant, strength-based trauma informed training to prepare folks who are community members to cook in their communities. Beyond that, we also work with folks who are partnered with other organizations. One of our chefs is an educator who has a background in public health. Another one of our chefs works with a food access organization in Philadelphia called The Hunger Coalition. So that’s a bit about what we do and how we do it. And I’m just super grateful to be here with you all to hear about your work and super grateful to share my work with you. Thank you.

Tom Llewellyn: Yeah, thanks Aurora, that was great. And I’m wondering, as I was hearing you talk, I was just thinking about all of the people that you mentioned, all the partners, all of the organizations, the training, everything — it seems like it’s a very comprehensive program. And it seems like it’s successful because of those multistakeholder partnerships that have been able to be developed there. And I’m wondering if you can just touch on that a little bit. I mean, I’m sure there’s many different aspects of the library, many different programs, the library that are all working with different partners. But how has this program been able to collect such a great diversity of programmatic partners to be able to make this a success?

Aurora Sanchez: I think part of it is, thankfully, despite the challenges that we face as an organization, this organization has a great reputation. And I think when you look at just our sheer number and our presence around the city of Philadelphia, it gives you a context of like how connected we have the capacity to be. That’s one of the reasons why the funding for this current project, the Department of Public Health, chose us because of our presence in every single neighborhood in the city. I also want to say I have a fantastic funder. My funder is not afraid of asking the hard questions. My funder brings it to the table to us in the language, when we originally were funded, it was about we were supporting and lifting up the voice of community members who were practicing health in the face of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia. Like we name that stuff in our work.

And then on top of that, we bring a certain level of love and care to this. Like, my colleagues and I, though, we are all frayed at the edges at this point, we love being in the community. We love the work that we do, and it is able to sustain us and again align with many organizations that share this mission. I didn’t even get a chance to talk to you about some of the work that happens outside the culinary literacy center. There are libraries all around the system that have done mutual aid work. And they’re partnering with even smaller organizations. And organizations that we are not currently partnering with because they have that capacity. So, we’re talking about individual librarians at any point in the city who are partnering with these other smaller entities and having folks come and pick up food boxes that the city of Philadelphia is making available to folks. So there’s just been — it’s a massive, massive effort. And there are so many unsung actors in this great, great work. So thank you.

Tom Llewellyn: Thanks Aurora. And we might get back to some of that mutual aid talk and resilience as we move forward. Great. Well, so our final presentation is going to be coming from Patrice.

Patrice Chamberlain: Aurora, that was amazing. And a very tough act to follow. So I’ll try. Hi, everybody. Still morning time here in California. So, as Tom mentioned, I’m coming from a slightly different perspective in that I’m not a librarian. But up until about 2018, I was actually managing a statewide anti-hunger coalition here in California. The coalition was comprised of school districts, food banks, youth development organizations and our State Department of Public Health and State Department of Education. And we were tasked with identifying how we could help more kids in California access USDA summer meal programs and address childhood hunger when school is out. Because we had found that only about 20 percent of California’s kids in need were accessing USDA’s summer meal programs here in California.

So we are really trying to figure out how we could get more kids to take advantage of those free meals. And especially knowing that what is great about USDA summer meal programs is that they’re available to all children and teens, 18 and under, no paperwork, no questions asked. So, it really is a theoretically accessible program. So we really were struggling to address the issue of what the barriers were and why more kids weren’t taking advantage of them. And as Erica mentioned in the beginning of the webinar, those rural issues, transportation and access to food are a big issue. But we also found that even in big cities, access to transportation, working parents, those things are issues and cities, too. So we really had to get creative in thinking about how to address food access in out of school time, knowing that when school lets out for summer break in normal times, of course, many, many kids lose access to the nutrition that they relied upon all year long.

So we knew that the lack of programming and having an appealing summer meal site was part of the issue. We knew that a lot of the school districts were serving meals at their campus. But after spending 180 days in school and being excited about summer vacation, the last place that kids wanted to go back to was their school to pick up a free meal when there wasn’t any kind of programming available for them. But we also had the issue here in California, where so many of the summer learning and enrichment programs and library budgets, too, had really been decimated from the 2008 financial crisis. And so really, just by sheer coincidence, at one of our coalition meetings, one of our colleagues from the city of Oakland mentioned this super successful pilot project that they had done by serving summer meals at the library. And until that point, libraries were not even on our radar as potential partners.

So knowing that, this presented a new opportunity. I think pretty much from that moment on we realized we in the child hunger and nutrition world, we were way off the mark because it made us realize that we really hadn’t been thinking about this from a whole child, whole family perspective. And agencies may work in silos, but children and families don’t. So from that moment on, it really was a strong message to us that we needed to be thinking more holistically and how we address childhood hunger in the larger context of what was happening in the community and what other critical community issues were happening that we could address simultaneously.

So, again, at the time, I was working for the Summer Meal coalition. But when I approached California Library Association, it turned out that the people in their world were having the same conversations about summer learning loss and children being hungry while spending time in the library. So that was when we decided to collaborate. And so in 2013, both the Summer Meal Coalition and California Library Association received funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to pilot what we called lunch at the library across California. And the idea was to pilot this at 13 different libraries across the state, because obviously in a state the size of California, there is no one size fits all. And we knew that what might work in Oakland might not work in Fresno or would look different in Los Angeles or in a rural part of the state.

Patrice Chamberlain: So, what we did was we piloted lunch at the library at these 13 libraries, brought our respective expertise and knowledge of the acronyms in each of our universes, and did some matchmaking. And what we did from that was we really captured all of the best practices, innovative programming and partnership ideas. We developed evaluation tools to help libraries capture their successes. And then we developed a suite of resources so that we could help scale that bigger and across California to more libraries. And that way, when we came across a very tiny library that thought, ‘oh, I could never do this in my library,’ we could then say, ‘yes, you can actually. Here’s how a library similar to yours did it. And here were the challenges that they faced and here’s how to address them.’ So that really helped us exponentially grow summer meals through public libraries in California.

So fast forward to 2019. We had more than 230 libraries offering summer meals across California. And even last year, in the peak of the pandemic, many of those libraries continued because that foundation had been there. Many of those libraries continue to do grab and go meals and offer grab and go programming. And many of the other libraries that couldn’t serve meals at their library took their programming and brought it to other community meal sites, mostly school district. So it really just kind of continued the fluidity of those food and literacy and enrichment partnerships with different school districts and other community partners.

So my colleagues are still managing the Lunch at the Library program and I have been working for the last few years on expanding one aspect of Lunch at the Library called the Building Healthy Habits Initiative. And this initiative is really just kind of expanding Lunch at the Library and adding breadth and depth of focus on very young children and really thinking about how we can intentionally build healthy habits among very young children while also supporting early learning skills. And I think especially during COVID, we know that the youngest children have really been left far behind. Without access to child care programs, parents and caregivers may or may not be working, we know there’s a lot of family stress and mental health issues. Some of our pediatricians here serving low income communities have told me that they are seeing, in addition to mental health issues, they’re also seeing speech delays and weight gain. So, this is really a timely effort.

And the goal is to both increase access to healthy food through summer meals and help young children try new foods, expose them to new foods. Many of these meal service programs are providing food that may or may not be familiar to kids. It may not be culturally familiar, may just not be something that they have access to at home. So really finding ways to introduce young children to new foods, connecting library early childhood programs and integrating themes of nutrition, food literacy, physical activity and gardening. And part of that includes working with local health departments and our state public health departments and really kind of strengthening that connection between early learning and literacy and healthy living. Because we obviously know that nutrition is critical to brain social and emotional development, and that’s linked to better academic outcomes. And similarly, literacy is linked to better health outcomes.

So we’re really trying to broaden the partnerships and collaboration to do that. And these are just a couple of quick examples of some of the grab and go kits that we developed. Again here in California, the majority of our libraries are not very well resourced, but because we’ve been able to bring in resources from other agencies, largely our public health departments and USDA, it’s really allowed us to leverage the existing resources that are there without costing a lot of money. So, this is a quick example. Many of our libraries serve the USDA Farmers to Families boxes. And so we developed just an activity card so that we could create kind of a sensory experience where young children would get to sort that produce, but also kind of developing those early learning skills. These two cards are from the health department, which provide an opportunity to increase food literacy and expand vocabulary and get beyond yummy and yucky. And on the back, there’s actually recipes to create flavored water in an effort to reduce consumption of sugar sweetened beverages.

So, there’s a lot of opportunities for collaboration between health-related agencies, other early childhood agencies and libraries. And again, it’s really just about identifying the resources that we already had in most of our communities and figuring out a way that we can tailor those collaborations to serve different populations. And so, thinking what made this work so well in California? Why have we had success? I think largely has relied on the amount of effort we’ve put into educating other agencies and electeds about libraries and how they are not just about books. And you all know that. And I know that it’s always an ongoing mission to try to educate others about how libraries really are serving whole person needs and really identifying what those shared goals are.

And just as an example, we do a lot of work educating law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement agencies are really focused on literacy, as a crime prevention, because obviously the connections there. But they also understand issues of food insecurity in many of communities that we work in. So, with one of the local sheriff’s departments, we actually started offering free books in the lobby of one of the local jails and promoting summer meals at Lunch at the Library. That way, kids that were coming to visit an incarcerated parent not only would get information about the summer meal program happening at local libraries, but they also could leave with books. So really kind of figuring out how to create that shared language and shared goals was really instrumental here.

Also, we really have taken advantage of every possible platform to again, promote that libraries are not just about books and really show others what libraries are doing. And so I’ve included just a couple of examples for those that are interested in expanding the health and nutrition work. And actually, I will even add, this isn’t just about food. I think now more than ever, we need to be talking about how libraries are helping to use food as a way to support family and family mental health, because we’re not just nourishing bodies through the food that all of these amazing libraries are serving. We’re working with your health departments and cities and really just kind of promote that libraries are a link between cities, counties and schools and helping leaders use that as a way to increase collaboration. And with that, I will say thank you and pass it back on to Tom.

Tom Llewellyn: All right, thank you, Patrice. I think that that you actually just left us on a great Segway, which I kind of want to talk about a little bit more, is really how communities can be working with their libraries to be able to bring some of these programs — what does that communication look like? What does it look like to develop a partnership? And specifically, I’m thinking about, if there was somebody in a community, maybe it’s somebody who’s a farmer, maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just somebody who’s who sees a need. What does that process look like? And I’m going to maybe push it back to Erica real quick to start with answering this. And just from your experience as a librarian, what are you hoping for in those types of interactions? What is going to help be a little bit more successful?

Erica Freudenberger: I guess that first thing that I want to say is just because nobody’s done something before doesn’t mean it can’t happen. And I think that’s really important to keep in mind. And our program, the Farm to Library program, started because I was having a conversation with an outreach coordinator at a local hospital and they were trying to improve health outcomes in specific counties — in the counties that we serve because of being in rural food deserts and incidence of diabetes and obesity and everything are really high where we are. But they couldn’t figure out how to get to where the people were. And I was like, ‘hey, have you thought about sharing food through our libraries?’ And they were like, ‘oh.’ And so just because people haven’t included libraries before, it’s just because we’re not on their radar. It doesn’t mean that they’re not willing to work with us.

And so I think that I’m a big believer in asking for what you want and need and just believing in something and making it happen. And I also just, I realize I didn’t put in context, the libraries that are part of this program, at least half of them have part time directors or directors, aren’t working more than 20 hours a week. And their budgets are below $100,000 a year. So I want to say that this work, really meaningful work that has a really positive impact on your community, can be done on any level. There’s no reason not to do great work.

And the other thing that we’ve seen in our work that I think is really important is when you tap into community partners and you pool your resources, your collective impact is so much greater. And it also reveals this lie that somehow we live in a world of scarcity. We don’t. We live in an incredibly abundant world. And the one thing we have learned through this is that there is more than enough food to feed everybody. Nobody should ever be hungry. We’ve got enough for everyone. It’s just a matter of getting it to them.

And I also want to just mention one thing — sometimes we work with partners, people have interesting ideas. I was told by a number of people who work in the space or in adult literacy that the program wouldn’t be successful because people were in the income range that might be enjoying our food, wouldn’t like fresh fruits and vegetables. That they like processed foods and other things. And I just want to say there’s nothing more hateful than saying that. Everybody deserves — and the food that we’re sharing, for the most part, it’s all local, it’s overwhelmingly organic, and everybody is happy to have it. Teens are there gobbling cucumbers fresh out of the bag.  I really want to just crush that sense. Just because people haven’t had access doesn’t mean they’re not going to love it. It doesn’t mean they don’t deserve it.

Tom Llewellyn: Yeah, thank you for that. And one thing you really touched on there was the need to release prejudices and perceptions of people, the other thing that you’re talking about, like, maybe I would like that produce, but somebody else is not going to like it because of their socio-economic status, or whatever that is. It’s really important, whenever we design a program or go into a partnership, it really does take a lot of listening and letting go of some of those biases to be able to come up with something really strong. And what I liked about something you said earlier at the beginning, and this was, I think, echoed by Aurora as well, was you mentioned your program, you’re giving away this food. There’s no questions asked. And a lot of these programs, the summer feeding programs, all these things, there’s no questions asked. The food is there and available. It is a form of mutual aid, of community support, both for the community but also of the community as well. I mean, when it comes to the supporting of local farms and integrating and supporting the farmers as well, it really seems like some really great mutually beneficial relationships that have been developed there.

Erica Freudenberger: I think it’s even more than that. I think it’s about love. It’s really about showing love for your community and understanding that our well-being is tied up with our communities, that we have to really love the people we serve.

Patrice Chamberlain: And I think here in California, what we tell other agencies and the message that we promote is that food brings people together. It’s one of those few things that cuts across all lines. As you said, it’s love.

Tom Llewellyn: So I want to go to a couple of questions right now before I forget. And one of them was was around, talking specifically about the gardening programs and the food and distribution on that front, a Farmer’s market or the seed sharing and tool sharing that are involved there. There was a question about are these programs only happening during the summer growing season? Are they year-round? And how has that decision, if it’s one way or the other, been made?

Leighan Cazier: I can speak to that a little bit. Our market does run from April through November. So it is the South Carolina growing season simply because we did move away from a wholesale wholesaler to a more local model simply because we want to support the farmers in our community. That does not mean that our=Library of Things is not year-round. So we do make that available to everyone year round. But we did find that both customers that our market, vendors at our market, wanted to move toward a very local organic model.

Tom Llewellyn: Thank you. So another question that came in here was asking about — we were talking about health and we were specifically focusing on food, but wanted to open it up a little bit to just general kind of community health. And I think libraries are increasingly becoming centers for community health. Many libraries now have social workers, or there’s some partnership with local social services. And the specific question that came in was around things around personal products, such as sanitary products and period poverty and helping to address some of those issues. And I’m wondering if any of either your library systems that you’re working in or those that you’re associated with have any of those programs that you can talk about? And if there is a more umbrella, more holistic view of health that your programs are a part of through your library systems.

Aurora Sanchez: So, we do have social workers that our main library, there’s a new program coming off the ground that’s going to bring social workers to another area of our city. There have been multiple programs — to be clear, the culinary literacy center is technically a department and our main library, which is downtown. But the majority of my programming in particular happens all throughout the city. Over the years, I’ve been with the free library since I was a work study student in 2004, over the years, there have been more opportunities than I can count for folks to receive free clothing, for folks to receive, again, hygiene products of all kinds, Especially downtown. In a city like ours, the majority of our folks who are transient or who are experiencing housing security wind up in that sort of central area of the city. And so it’s been very valuable to have our social workers at our main branch. And it’s also deeply valuable to have that kind of work branching out into other communities that are also experiencing so much devastation.

Tom Llewellyn: Thank you. And one other thing that I’ve been wanting to, as I’m hearing all of your descriptions of your programs and we, I think, are rightfully focusing on so much of the success that you’ve been having, especially a lot of these programs, it sounds like have been piloted in the last five years or so. And it really speaks to this larger transition that’s happening across, really all around the world, that libraries are increasingly offering new programs, being more dynamic and really filling this key role as being a community center.

I mean, one of the things that I really love about libraries, and this is something we talk about a lot at Shareable, is how libraries are a common denominator — they really are open to everyone. And no matter kind of what your socio-economic class might be like, people have a strong connection with libraries. I can’t remember the exact numbers right now, but I know there’ve been many polls about the trustworthiness of public institutions. And libraries are always right there at the top of public institutions.

And so, like I mentioned, we’ve really kind of been focusing on some of these core programs that you’re leading and how they’re working. I’m wondering, in the last couple of minutes, if we can talk a little bit about some of the things that haven’t worked. Because for every single one of these programs that has had success, I’m sure there’s been some amount of trial and error that’s led to that. And I’m wondering, maybe we can jump back to Patrice real quick, if you can kind of speak to some of that experience you’ve had as you were starting to expand that program across the state of California. And one of the things that I was thinking about when you were presenting was just the fact that California, like much of the United States, is increasingly multilingual and wondering if you can speak at all to any issues that you’ve had around language and being able to reach people that that would be able to use your programs.

Patrice Chamberlain: Definitely. That’s a great question. Yeah, definitely not just language, but language and culture and literacy level. So much. And California is so big and diverse that we could be many states within one state. And I think that our goal in developing and expanding Lunch at the Library has really been to provide the template, but then let the librarians and library staff customize it in a way that works for their community. And they know who their community members are and what they need to make it culturally appropriate for their community members and their families.

But I mean, even, you know, all of the resources that we develop, we always try to do it in English and Spanish, since Spanish is a predominant language in California. But even within that, there’s so much variation. So, it’s definitely been a challenge. But again, being able to incorporate other community partners that do have that expertise are those trusted messengers. Because obviously in California, too, we also have the issue of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids happening. And so that really made the trust with any kind of city or county — librarians really had to do a lot of work to ensure that that trust was there and that families knew that the libraries were a safe place. So it’s definitely always a work in progress to make sure that we’re making things linguistically, literacy level appropriate and culturally appropriate.

Tom Llewellyn: Thank you.

Noah Lenstra: Just on that note, and we’re getting some questions about how do you get started, working with your library, and Aurora mentioned in the sidebar, Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods and innovation really comes from the local level. And Aurora, I’d love to, maybe if you have a particular example of a local partnership, of someone comes to the library and maybe in that there’s some lessons for folks who want to kind of get started really doing something at the local level with their librarian.

Aurora Sanchez: We have been fortunate over the last few years, we have community organizers. And so some of what happens is our community organizers building relationships with folks and then from there developing programming. And just positioning — it’s important to have somebody in the role, I think, depending on the structure of a space, that’s going to really just support that partnership, that’s going to help bring the community in and make space within the organization for the community to be there. I think that’s one of our greatest challenges. It’s not always easy to figure out how we as an institution work with community members. And so putting some intention there.

And also, as a big part of healthy communities, we again, we give out gift cards in addition to giving out food for participation, we pay community members to do programming. So I just want to really encourage you all to value your community members as assets. Depending on what community you’re serving, they may come with a very different set of social and emotional skills and a way that they present those things. They may come with a very different set of – a very different educational level. But they have managed to survive this long and they have managed to survive in spite of many, many obstacles that have tried to take them down. And so just really hold a lot of space for the value of individuals, even those who may not be presenting their value in a way that stands out to you. And again, reward that with not only attention and intention, but with financial reward. Again, especially in a city like mine where one out of four people is possibly living in poverty. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Tom Llewellyn: Yeah, thanks Aurora. And we are just kind of getting to the end of this. And we want to honor people’s time, both our speakers and also everyone who’s attended. And so I will just say that we are going to be releasing the video for this next week and the audio, as well as a bonus episode on the Cities@Tufts Lectures podcast, that Shareable is a partner on. I also want to call attention to all of the great resources that have been put into the chat. Wonderful questions that people have been posing and answering the questions that we’ve been asking the panelists. People have been answering in the chat as well. But there’s also a number of really good resources and there’s links to articles that we’ve been publishing on Shareable about how to start working with a local library and how to approach that, how to start a Library of Things. And so we’re going to be sending out a set of these resources, as well as the podcast and video and also the transcripts to this conversation. So if there’s anything that somebody said that you want to grab, we’re going to share that as well. And we’re going to be emailing that out to everyone that registered for the event.

So just to finish right now, I would like to just ask everyone, we’re going to go down the line maybe once and just 30 seconds to a minute maximum, just going to keep it really short. I’m wondering if you can just say, where are you going next? What are you looking at and specifically focusing around meeting issues around food insecurity? What is on your horizon? I think we started with Erica to begin with, So I’m going to swap the order out to put Patrice on the hot seat and we’ll start there and we’ll work back down the line.

Patrice Chamberlain: That’s a tough question. I think I’m usually thinking of new ideas 24 hours a day what I would like to do, I certainly want to copy all of the ideas that my fellow speakers are implementing. One area that I really want to tackle on my long wish list is to really focus on food security for families that have food and literacy, for kids and families that have a family member incarcerated, like an incarcerated parent. I’d love to have that on my horizon to delve in deeper and keep doing more on the early learning side as well.

Aurora Sanchez: I would say I want to continue to just deepen the practice and deepen the work of supporting community members to be in the space and having their voices lifted up. And I would say, possibly expand to be in different communities. So, we’ve been in a specific set of communities. I would love to see more of our communities involved. We chose our libraries because they were staffed in a certain way. And what would it mean for us to be able to support libraries that maybe don’t meet that qualification and bring this more equitable approach there.

Leighan Cazier: Our plan is to expand our markets to more of our branches. That should be by the end of the summer. We expect to have three more of our branches having their own markets, which in and of itself is fantastic because we can reach different farming communities as well, because our county is so large, so that we can bring in other partners that way. On a different topic, slightly other than food insecurity, we also hope to try to support our community by expanding our markets to become more of a maker’s market as well. So to support small businesses and entrepreneurs in our community, which we saw was a need during COVID

Erica Freudenberger: Well, we’re always thinking of access issues. So the next thing for us is we’ve started building collections and want to continue to be able to share items that people may not be able to afford at home that would make cooking easier. Like crockpots or knives or blenders or whatever it is you need to cook fresh vegetables. And the other thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about, and I see that there’s some libraries doing incredible work in, is telehealth. Certainly this pandemic has highlighted the inequity around a number of issues, particularly in rural areas, about access to health care. And that’s one of the things we’re looking at.


Tom Llewellyn


Tom Llewellyn | |

Tom Llewellyn is the interim executive director for Shareable, a nonprofit news + action hub promoting people-powered solutions for the common good. As part of his role at Shareable,

Things I share: Food, Stories, Time, Skills, Tools, Cars, Bikes, Smiles, Clothes, Music, Knowledge, Home, Land, Water, and Stone Soup!
Noah Lenstra


Noah Lenstra |

Dr. Noah Lenstra launched Let's Move in Libraries in 2016 at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's School of Education, where he is an assistant professor of