MONTEREY COUNTY — With summer about to begin and schools ending their academic years, Monterey County Free Libraries has announced the beginning of its Summer Reading Program, as well as a Lunch at the Library program that offers free food and activity bags to youth.

“The staff has been really creative in packing the bag,” said County Librarian Hillary Theyer. “The aim is school age. We don’t want to leave anyone out.”

Theyer said that the exact method of distribution is still being worked out, and will mostly likely be one bag with food and activity inside, or two bags, one with an activity and one with lunch. In any event, bags are designed for individual children, so families with multiple children would be given the right amount of bags for all their children.

“We want to get some nutritious food and fun stuff in the hands of families,” she said.

The county’s many branches will differ in what they serve in their lunch bags and how they distribute them, as they have different parking lots and work in partnership with their local school cafeterias. Some sites may allow walk-up while others have a drive-through system. Social distancing will be enforced.

“It’s going to be grab and go,” Theyer said. “It can be done super safely, like schools have been doing.”

The activities inside will differ each week. They could vary from an activity book with stickers, to a project that uses the bag the activity came in.

The Summer Reading Program, which began June 8, will differ from past years, with libraries remaining closed during the current shelter-in-place orders. The days of going into a local branch to browse books is not a possibility, leaving the library system to find alternatives.

Given the issues with internet and computer access throughout the county, e-books are not a fix-all solution, either.

“We’re aiming really rapidly toward physical book options,” Theyer said.

She noted Zip Books, where a patron browses Amazon and picks a book. Thanks to grant funding, the book is then ordered and delivered to the patron.

“That was meant to supplement everything else,” Theyer said about the Zip Books program. “When everything else shut down, it became the only way to obtain physical books.”

She noted limitations include only browsing what is available on Amazon, as well as price ranges. That’s why she said the library is working to restart a library-by-mail option, where patrons can place holds on books within the library system and have them mailed out.

Patrons would be able to place holds through the website, or with a phone call or email. A return label would come with the package when a patron is done with the book.

“A third way to get books into the hands of kids is to give them away as part of summer reading,” Theyer said. She explained the library has ordered numerous print books to make this happen in the near future. “These are going to be our major incentives for summer reading.”

Theyer said the librarians of the county branches are working to implement these solutions and find ways to get books out to kids.

“Our aim is to figure out a way for every kid who signed up for summer reading to get their brand-new free book, whether mailing it, putting it in a bag to pick up, or including it in a lunch bag,” Theyer said.

Curbside pickup is another development in the works, where patrons can go to their local branch to pick up books in the parking lot.

In addition to the main two programs, the library is also offering virtual activities, one of them being a painting class. Patrons can contact the Castroville, Carmel Valley, Buena Vista, Soledad, Marina, Greenfield, Seaside or Gonzales branches to register for the sessions and pick up art materials.

Theyer said county residents can register at any branch, not just their own local one, as the county is interested in participation and doesn’t wish to divide people by the locality in case one branch happens to run out. She also said there is a possibility that more branches will join the painting lineup as the summer progresses.

The library currently has a new number that works countywide, since contacting staff at local branches is not an option with current staffing. That new number is 831-883-7555.

Theyer said the phone line is answered by county library staff six days a week to help with questions, whether they be about library business or are questions that need answers, similar to how librarians could be approached for information before the Covid-19 closures.

The meal service and activity bags can be picked up beginning this week at the following South Monterey County branches: Gonzales on Wednesdays, Greenfield on Tuesdays, King City on Wednesdays, San Ardo on Thursdays, San Lucas on Fridays, and Soledad on Thursdays. All the branches will hold their bag pick-ups from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In addition, Parkfield will hold bag pick-ups on Fridays from 12 to 2 p.m.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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