Emily Clark and her father, Hillery, play board games at the Back of the Yards library after Emily finished her lunch.
At the library, 4-year-old Emily Clark was sharing some crackers with her shiny green dinosaur. Her father, Hillery, looked on.
“I’ll have to skip a meal sometimes, usually breakfast or lunch, but I really don’t want her to,” Hillery said.
That’s why Hillery brought Emily to the Back of the Yards Branch of the Chicago Public Library. This summer, the Chicago Public Library has partnered with the Greater Chicago Food Depository to fight hunger in Cook County by offering free summer meals at five library branches throughout the community.
The partnership addresses a significant need – nearly 255,000 children are at risk of hunger in Cook County. And during the summer, children are at an increased risk of hunger because many no longer receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school.
“When kids are hungry, they can’t learn as well,” said Maggie Clemons, the Back of the Yards Branch Manager. “We have a lot of kids in the community who receive free or reduced-price lunches at school, so these kids are able to eat meals here during the summer.”
For Hillery, the library meals program is an important safety net. He has been taking part-time carpentry jobs, but hasn’t been able to find full-time employment for the last three years. His wife is disabled and cannot work, so their budget is tight.
“I can’t make rent without working right now,” Hillery said. “And we’ve been paying the gas company $100 a month since January, but we still owe them money.”
At the library, children receive nutritious, shelf-stable meals. The Back of the Yards Branch serves approximately 30 meals per day.
“I’m really happy that we’re part of the program,” Maggie said. “It fits well with the library’s mission of strengthening the community and encouraging learning.”
Meanwhile, Emily and her dinosaur have finished lunch and moved on to play dress-up. As she ties a colored scarf around the stuffed animal’s neck, her father smiles.
“She seems to enjoy the program. She’s having fun, so everyone’s happy,” he said.