Carnegie-Stout Public Library has a new program to help tri-state residents in need during the holiday season.

The library is stocking a free food pantry, open during regular library hours, through Jan. 2. Patrons are able to come in and grab what they need, no questions asked.

Bill Carroll, the library’s adult services manager, said the idea arose from recent staff observations regarding library programming.

“We have patrons coming into the building specifically asking if we’re having programs, and their second question is, ‘Is there food there?’” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to see people coming to a library program to grab a can of pop and a snack or two because they’re so hungry. We felt it was our responsibility to step up and try to help those folks in our own little way.”

Amy Muchmore, adult services librarian, said the library is well-positioned to help fill the need.

“Dubuque has great services,” she said. “But normally when someone moves into a new community, they don’t know where those services are. But they always know where the library is.”

Thanks to staff donations and grant funding from the Carnegie-Stout Friends of the Library group, the pantry opened two weeks ago. It is located on a shelf in the main entrance on the first floor.

The pantry already has distributed about 1,100 food items.

“We can hardly keep food on the shelves,” Carroll said.

Community members don’t need to “check out” with their selections, but can simply take what they need.

“There’s no questions asked, nothing to qualify for,” Carroll said. “We just ask that patrons come in and take what they need, but leave behind items for those who may also need things to help support themselves.”

Library officials are seeking donations to maintain the food pantry. Non-perishable canned or boxed goods can be dropped off at any library services desk to be tracked and inspected for safety.

Donors are asked to avoid glass containers, perishables or expired foods. Carroll said items designed to feed multiple people, such as one-pound bags of rice or pasta, have been popular among pantry visitors. Muchmore said canned fruits and oatmeal also been well-received.

Community members also can make monetary donations at the circulation desk, where they can indicate that their contribution is specifically intended for the food pantry.

Although the library can’t sustain the pantry year-round, Carroll hopes to make it an annual holiday offering. Muchmore said it’s a natural extension of the library’s programming.

“Libraries aren’t about just books anymore. It’s more a community space and a place where people can connect,” she said. “(The food pantry) is part of our mission to serve as a place where people can get information and resources.”

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