Library distributes food to families

Renu Natarajan of Northbrook, (left), Bob Badesch of Highland Park, (right), volunteering to distribute fresh fruit to cars. Photo by Wes Kinard.

By Wes Kinard, Loyola Junior

Beyond the health risks, many families are struggling financially through the COVID-19 pandemic.

So the Highwood Library has taken initiative to distribute food, COVID-19 kits and information to over 200 families each week.

Key sponsors help provide the food for the community, including the Northern Illinois Food Bank, Curt’s Café and Roberti’s Community House

Volunteers recently joined together at the Highwood Library, located in a Chicago north suburb, to distribute hundreds of food boxes for families.

Families with their children waited patiently in the parking lot to receive a fresh supply of fruits, and nonperishable food items.

As little children hold their mother’s hand, and cars lined up to receive their next meal. Volunteers load hefty boxes of fruit and foods that consist of pastas and oatmeal and canned goods.

Renu Natarajan, 43, a Northbrook resident and a volunteer, expressed the immense pleasure of handing out food boxes to families.

“Families who come are very thankful,” Natarajan said. “They seem really happy, at times like this they are able to get groceries.”

Despite the risks of COVID-19, neighboring suburban residents have banded together every Wednesday afternoon to serve those impacted by the pandemic.

Sebastian Jones, 18, a Highland Park resident, and a weekly volunteer, did not let the pandemic stop him from serving his community.

“For me personally, it’s kind of hard-to-find things to keep me busy during quarantine,” Jones said. “It’s something to do that’s also sending out something good in the world.”

Before the pandemic struck the soul of American families, businesses, and organizations, the Highwood Library was entering in a transitional phase to revitalize the aesthetics of the library and enhance their educational and professional resources for their patrons.

Carmen Patlan, Executive Director of the Highwood Library, has created an inclusive and comprehensive environment of educational and leadership opportunities for community members to excel with the support of her staff members.

Some individuals who visit the Highwood Library are immigrants or come from underprivileged backgrounds, Patlan said.

Carmen Patlan, Executive Director of Highwood Library, helps distribute food.
Photo by Wes Kinard.

The U.S. Census Bureau & Data indicated that over 17 percent of adults in Highwood live below the poverty line and thirty one percent of adults do not have a high school diploma.

“We want to make sure we break down these barriers because it keeps people in poverty and we don’t want that, Patlan said. “We want people to be educated to access better paying employment.”

Beyond the collection of vintage and original books and DVDs, the Highwood Library offers courses to receive your GED, courses for non-English speaking individuals to learn to read and write in English, citizenship classes, and youth educational programs.

Due to quarantine restrictions many classes have shifted to virtual, for library members to continue to take their desired courses.

“Since the pandemic, we moved to virtual programming. GED, Conversation Literacy Classes, and Spanish literacy Classes all resumed virtually,” Patlan said.

Recently, four members of the Highwood Library successfully received their GED. Additionally, one member completed her citizenship requirements and voted in the 2021 Presidential Election.

“Some of the patrons, GED students, their lives have shifted and changed for the better,” Patlan said. “They created a ripple effect within their own family; they can finally value their academic success.”

When the Highwood Library is not serving food and COVID kits to the community, they are providing academic support for K-12 students.

Rachel McMullen a staff member of Highwood Library indicated the resources they offer. “We have administered since October 92 sessions and over 110 hours of academic support.”

With the addition of academic support, the staff members are working diligently to ensure community members understand the risks and preventative measures of COVID-19.

“We are helping them understand what the pandemic is, provide critical information about vaccines, connect them to resources and tools that will help them understand how they will take care of their families, how they can protect their personal health and protect their communities, and register for the Allvax,” McMullen said. “Which is another critical initiative we are doing now, is getting people in line for the vaccine.”

Not only has Carmen and her staff sustained these comprehensive educational curriculums, but they have also leveraged key partnership with the Illinois Department of Public Health, to conduct COVID tests in the library’s parking lot.

There are two COVID testing sites in the library’s parking lot, Patlan said.

Carmen credited the community she serves as her inspiration to provide exceptional service.

“Our library is an extraordinary asset in this community,” Patlan said. “The team that we have built here is community center… We are a lifeline.”

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