Good reads, good eats

There are more than books on the shelves at the Vineyard Haven library.

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The Island community is used to its libraries connecting, educating, enlightening, and entertaining us; now the Vineyard Haven library has just added nourishing the community to the list. Every Sunday from noon to 4 pm, children’s librarian Emily LaPierre loads a cart with free food she’s picked up from M.V. Food Baskets at Good Shepherd Parish. She sets up the cart in the vestibule of the building, so that anyone who is hungry can stop by to pick up some food items. It is there for anyone who needs it — rice, peanut butter, juice boxes, soup, tuna, macaroni and cheese, crackers, and fruit, as well as shelf-safe milk.

“Vineyard Haven has a high year-round population. We see a lot of people who use the library as a safe haven; this piece was sort of missing before,” LaPierre said in the library’s garden during a conversation with The Times. “With programming, we’ve had to think a lot outside of the box, and this has been one of those things that’s been a good outcome. Sunday we’re closed, which provides privacy for those who need to pick something up.”

So far, LaPierre said, she’s been relying on social media to get the word out about the Sunday giveaway. She knows cooler weather is coming, though, and there may be more people who would benefit from some extra food on their shelves. The community is already utilizing the food cart at the library, and by 4 pm every Sunday it is empty, LaPierre said.

The library also partners with Island Grown Schools to provide composting buckets for people to take when they pick up their nonperishables, as well as instructions on composting.

“It’s taken off,” LaPierre says. “I love that the Island has really come together with these food resources. The fact that we can provide something that can help an individual, a family, or a child is just fantastic.”

What began with donations for children’s programming and snacks for afterschool programs now has expanded into an effort for all ages. LaPierre said that the library has had to re-examine how it connects with patrons during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they’ve actually found even more ways to serve the community.

“It’s hard not to build a strong bond with the kids who come into the children’s room,” LaPierre said. Through virtual programming and outreach, the library is able to stay connected to families. “It’s great because it’s opened up a whole other portal of programming for me. How do you maintain that bond while not being able to see them? I’ve gotten a lot of emails from parents sending me pictures. We have tons of book recommendations and requests. We’re still ordering books that people are looking for. Parents will email and say, ‘My child loves trains,’ or ‘My child loves mermaids,’ and I can say ‘Got it!’ We’re reinventing the word librarian to fit the needs of the community, and fit the capability of the library during these times.”

The food cart has been out at the library since mid-September, she said, and there are plans with M.V. Food Baskets to keep it going. The outreach program at Good Shepherd Parish continues to supply the community every other Saturday from 10:30 to 11:30 am with contactless pickup from its site in Oak Bluffs. Cars line up on the road through the cemetery across from the parish center, and last Saturday there were a dozen cars waiting an hour before pickup time. Volunteers put bags and boxes together filled with fresh produce, eggs, butter, yogurt, milk, cheese, and beans, along with frozen chicken thighs, pork, fish sticks, and soup. A volunteer asks each driver for his or her phone number and town; no names are revealed. Then the food is loaded into the back of the vehicle without the driver ever getting out of the car.

Janae Dlabaj and Joe Capobianco head up the 15 volunteers at M.V. Food Baskets, and they’re happy to help the community by distributing as much food as they can to those who need it. Even the Oak Bluffs Police Department gets involved, helping Food Baskets MV unload their truck on Mondays. The two work out of an office in the parish center, surrounded by cases of noodles, cans of tuna, and bags of every kind of bean you can imagine.

“We had about 70 people a week, then COVID-19 happened,” Capobianco said last Saturday, “and we went up to 300. Now we’re at 170.” He said the numbers have crept up since summer ended.

Like LaPierre at the library, they’re in awe of the Island community and the way the people take care of one another. Dlabaj’s husband is in the Coast Guard, and they’ve moved around a lot, she said. “I’ve lived in a lot of places, and I can’t say enough about this community,” she said.

For more information about the Vineyard Haven library’s food program, email Emily LaPierre at elapierre@clamsnet.org. To find out more about M.V. Food Baskets, visit them on Facebook, at facebook.com/thefoodbasketsmv.