By: Janelle Ortiz, Library Associate, Arlington Public Library
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Arlington Public Library (Virginia) consistently partnered with our local food bank: the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). We have food donation collection boxes at select branches and every year our Central Library cultivates a garden that grows fresh produce which is donated to AFAC. When COVID-19 began and library staff began working remotely, many staff were temporarily assigned duties assisting the county in other capacities. One such assignment was the coordination of grocery deliveries to low-income Arlington residents who are self-isolating due to COVID-19.
The purpose of the grocery deliveries is to meet the needs of our quarantined Arlington residents while they wait to be added to an emergency meal delivery service set up by the Cooperative for a Hunger Free Arlington (CHFA). The coordination and logistics of the deliveries are handled by Tracy Kallassy and Mike Nelson, two Arlington Public Library branch managers. Additionally, several library workers have volunteered to make the deliveries and contact clients to verify the information. This initiative began in April and I volunteered to run the delivery route once a week until mid-June.
Grocery deliveries begin with me picking up the groceries for several families from AFAC. The food is organized by type, but I sort food portions by family size. The above photo is a typical set of groceries for a large family. It includes two half-gallons of milk, one carton of eggs, two proteins (in this case chicken and hot dogs), two grains, a bag of fresh produce, and a bag of dry goods. A few miscellaneous items, like snacks, are part of the deliveries as well. These groceries are meant to supply food for the week-long gap in service between when clients sign up for emergency meal deliveries from the CHFA and when they are added to a delivery route.
Because we are delivering food to people who have the coronavirus or have been exposed to the coronavirus, we have to be very careful when making the deliveries. We are provided gloves and masks if needed, but I provide my own. We do not have direct contact with any of the families. We place the groceries on the landing or doorstep, knock or ring the doorbell, and then create a distance of at least 6 feet between the door and ourselves. We ensure the recipient acknowledges the groceries have been delivered which they usually do by answering the door and confirming they were expecting the delivery. Everything has been coordinated beforehand, so they know to anticipate a delivery on that day.
This is just one example of how Arlington Public Library is partnering with local community organizations to meet the needs of underserved communities in our area. Arlington Public Library has provided free WiFi outside our locations, PPE donation drives, virtual career services, and more. We have been able to not only continue but strengthen our partnerships with local organizations throughout this unprecedented pandemic. Being able to help our community has been very rewarding. Although this is a time of uncertainty, knowing we can count on one another brings some comfort.