Libraries Provide the Basics During COVID-19

Most public libraries stopped distributing materials during the pandemic to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean they stopped distributing anything. Some leveraged their expertise at getting resources into the hands of patrons to help those suddenly struggling with the bare essentials of life: food, diapers, the means to clean up, or a place to sleep.

logo for St. Louis Library Diaper Bank superimposed on photo of crawling babiesMost public libraries stopped distributing materials during the pandemic to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean they stopped distributing anything. Some leveraged their expertise at getting resources into the hands of patrons to help those suddenly struggling with the bare essentials of life: food, diapers, the means to clean up, or a place to sleep.

 

SAFE PARKING

In San Luis Obispo County, CA, Los Osos Library premiered a COVID-19 safe parking program. The program lets people who are homeless stay in their cars overnight in the library’s parking lot, not only providing a safe place to sleep, but also safe showers and restrooms.

Los Osos previously ran a pre-COVID safe parking pilot program when a local nonprofit reached out to them about the possibility. It was shut down due to lack of participation. But the parking service is up and running again now that COVID-19 has created a higher demand. Nightly counts show the library parking lot is full and people are making use of the showers and restrooms.

All workers at the site, who are reassigned county staff serving as Disaster Relief Workers, wear gloves and a mask (including N95, basic surgical masks, and cloth masks), and participants who are not assigned masks are asked to stand six feet apart from one another and not to congregate. Director of Libraries Christopher Barnickel told LJ that so far there have been no problems. The lot is overseen by a security officer, and anyone participating must undergo a background check.

Barnickel’s advice for any library thinking of developing a program like this is, “Find a good community partner; communication is key; and be flexible.”

 

FOOD BANKS

Many libraries are partnering with food pantries to alleviate COVID-19–induced hardships. In Toronto, Canada, for example, the public library has turned its distribution center into a food bank after a third of the food banks in the city shut down during the pandemic. Though closed, the banks still had plenty of food that needed to be distributed.

Responding to this need, the library partnered with North York Harvest, Daily Bread, and Second Harvest to help distribute food. The library set up shop in a distribution center on Ellesmere Road, where hundreds of thousands of books a year were previously processed. Every couple of hours, the team has been able to pack 850 hampers of food which can feed up to 1,700 people.

There is a lot of room in the 25,000 square foot distribution center to social distance. Only 10 to 15 staff work at a time, six feet from each other. Gail MacFayden, a member of the project, told LJ that team members, who volunteer for the job and are paid, wear paper masks and, “hand wash and sanitize every 15 minutes.” In addition, they, “train and review safety practices with staff at the beginning of each shift and debrief at the end.” Overall, the team handles the food as little as possible to prevent contamination.

One-third of the beneficiaries of the food hampers are children, so the library provides children’s books with some hampers with a pamphlet inside about the library’s online resources.

 

SANITARY STATIONS

In South Carolina, Richland Library has deployed eight of its hand sanitizer stands with refills to the nonprofits Transitions, Homeless No More, and Killingsworth Homes. Richland has also placed two porto-lets and a hand-washing station outside its main location.

Seattle Public Libraries has reopened five bathrooms to help the over 3,500 people who are living unsheltered in the city. “Touch points” such as toilet seats, sinks, and door handles are frequently cleaned by custodial staff who are employed by the library, which is operating the site with the minimum number of staff necessary. They all wear PPE.

 

DIAPER DRIVE-THRU

St. Louis County Library, MO, has partnered with St. Louis Area Diaper Bank to offer a free diaper drive-thru service. Diapers are as sought after as much as toilet paper during the pandemic, so they can be a struggle to find.

Families can pick up 25 diapers every Friday from volunteers wearing masks and gloves between 10 a.m. and noon. Diapers are distributed by voluntary workers in the branch parking lots where cars drive through and diapers are put in the back of the car. A child must be present. During one drive-thru day, 4,000 diapers were given away to more than 150 families.

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