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Hungry? Check out your local library!

Hungry? Check out your local library!

Combatting Food Inequity with Innovative Partnerships
munch mobile

Lunch is Served

Madison Public Library has worked to provide food and food resources to our communities for years. One way we have worked to bring food directly to our community members has been by establishing a sack lunch program at Meadowridge library. Youth Services Librarian and program lead, Cassandra Harlan, says that the program feeds about 50-60 people per week, the majority of whom are kids and tweens between the ages of 10-15. 


“There’s some kids who come in everyday, a lot of [librarians] know them by name. Sometimes we have kids who bring in their siblings or cousins so they can eat, too,” said Harlan. 

The sack lunches with sandwiches, string cheese and fruit snacks are provided to the library by Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and are dropped off every Thursday.

“Volunteers from the church will write messages on the bags. Things like ‘you’re beautiful’ and ‘you’re doing great’, and the kids notice that,” continued Harlan. 

The sack lunches are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and are available to patrons everyday between 2:30-7PM. This program has greatly helped those in the Meadowridge community, but there are many others in the Madison community who need support.

munch mobile

Wisconsin is one of the biggest agricultural producers in the nation with 64 thousand farms across the state as of 2021 producing an incredible amount of food each year including potatoes, corn and snap peas. Yet, 420,000 Wisconsin residents face food insecurities every day - meaning 420,000 people across Wisconsin have inconsistent or unreliable access to food despite living in such an agriculturally rich state. These numbers continue to increase as communities around Wisconsin, especially marginalized communities, are still dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19. 

Madison Public Library has been seeking innovative partners to combat this for years. The River Food Pantry’s Munch Mobile, which travels to several neighborhoods in Madison, is a mobile meals program that delivers free and healthy meals. Though everyone is welcome to take a meal, the Munch Mobile focuses on providing food to children who are eligible for free school lunch during times when there is no school. Meals include a main entree, fruits, vegetables, grains, a sweet and a drink. In 2022, the Munch Mobile distributed over 10,000 meals and often provides other essentials such as hand sanitizer, masks, books and more! 

“The Munch Truck delivers meals once or twice a week, depending on the season, all year long. Patrons of all ages are invited to grab a free lunch while the truck is outside. We know some patrons plan their library visits around these opportunities to have a free, delicious meal, whether that’s from the Munch Truck or another one of our food resources,” shares youth services librarian Madeleine K.

Mini Food Pantry

The mini food pantry at Goodman South Madison Library is right inside the door near their best sellers book display. Grab a great read and a needed food staple all in one go. 

Access to Food at the Library

The Goodman South Madison Library staff saw how popular the Munch Truck's weekly stops were and wanted to do more for those who were experiencing food insecurity. In 2023, Goodman South Madison staff decided to open a mini food pantry right in their library.

When the food pantry first opened, community members were quick to use the resource and emptied the pantry within a few days. They needed more food! Library staff connected with The River Food Pantry to restock the pantry, but this time, with more items. Matt Lamb, a library assistant at the Goodman South Madison Library, says, “Folks are really appreciative of the food pantry; being able to stop in and grab food whenever we're open and see what's new each week keeps folks coming back”. The River Food Pantry now restocks our shelves on a weekly basis and people are also able to donate to the program via a large donation bin. 

“We value our partnership with River Food Pantry. We did not expect how successful this endeavor has become. We are very happy that we can serve our community in this way,” said Ching Wong, the Goodman South Madison Library Supervisor.

Besides providing ready-to-eat meals, Madison Public Library has also worked to fight food insecurity by offering free seeds for patrons to take home and plant. Through our Seed Library, which began in 2014, patrons are able to pick up as many seeds as they’d like from the library then plant and harvest them at home! 

Chef Lily

Chef Lily helps a young patron roll her vegetarian Sushi Roll at Lakeview Library. 

Besides providing ready-to-eat meals, Madison Public Library has also worked to fight food insecurity by offering free seeds for patrons to take home and plant. Through our Seed Library, which began in 2014, patrons are able to pick up as many seeds as they’d like from the library then plant and harvest them at home! 

On top of providing food for those in need, the library has also centered programming around cooking, healthy eating, and gardening that can help achieve and maintain food security. Through our collaboration with instructor and freelancer Chef Lily, kids and teens around Madison have learned foundational cooking skills and have had the chance to try new healthy foods. Chef Lily began her time with Madison Public Library by doing food centered programming at both the Lakeview and Meadowridge libraries.

“Chef Lily's classes provide an opportunity for participants to eat a free, delicious and nutritious meal. There is often more than enough to eat, so Chef Lily offers meals to patrons who happen to be in the library. At the classes, participants try new foods, and they learn how to prepare meals, follow recipes, and use cooking tools - all incredibly valuable life skills. And, by reading and following recipes, participants are using and strengthening their literacy skills, too!” explains youth services librarian Madeleine K. 

To keep the food and wellness learning during the pandemic, Madison Public Library and Chef Lily pivoted to an online format for families to learn and make their own meals from home. Chef Lily’s 12-video series taught children and families about different foods, where they come from, how to follow recipes and how to use a variety of tools in the kitchen. Each video, which is available on our YouTube page, is about thirty minutes long and include a downloadable recipe card. 

The librarians at Madison Public Library are always on the lookout for programs and resources to help fight food insecurities. Patrons can access up to date resources on our website, with an entire section labeled “Help For Hard Times”, or always ask at their local library. While you’re there, you might even find something to eat! 


Isabel Chiriboga-Pineda
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