April 2019 | XXXVII. Issue 2 »

A Library, a Non-Profit, and a Village

March 25, 2019
Katie Heaton, Mississippi Valley District Library

Imagine a hometown Easter parade: A local school’s marching band comes rum-pa-pum-ing down the street. The Easter Bunny is riding shotgun with the fire chief, who is waving out the window. The parade includes children who decorate and ride their bikes, walkers wearing Easter bonnets, a convertible full of clowns, a local motorcycle club, a few decorated vehicles (including the library’s van wafting bubbles from the open gate), a couple of walking mascots, and the police department escorts. The fire trucks’ sirens roar as they lead the parade down the streets to the library grounds where the four egg hunts and other festivities are waiting.

The looks of anticipation on the children’s faces as they line the large grassy field filled with colorful eggs is captivating. Several volunteers guard the eggs on the field and keep the eager children behind the boundary cones. Vendors decorate tables adorned with prizes, large chocolate bunnies, Easter baskets, and informational brochures. Families stroll about enjoying the activities, talking with their neighbors, and visiting with the vendors. The local police department hustles to cook and serve 500 free hot dogs, chips, and drinks. There is a craft booth set up for the children and the sound of their hammering threads through the hum of the crowd.

Back at the egg field, the announcer gives last minute instructions and the countdown is on. With the drop of a hand, a swarm of children run to fill their baskets. The eggs disappear from the field in moments and the children sit down in the field or retreat to their waiting parents and grandparents to check their eggs for candy and winning tickets before heading over to the vendor tables to gather their prizes. There are four egg hunts, one for each age group of 2–3 years, 4–6 years, 7–10 years, and 11–14 years. The egg hunts take place 20 minutes apart—enough time to enjoy the rest of the activities while volunteers prepare the field for the next hunt. The roaming Easter Bunny receives hugs from children and high-fives from parents as families pose for pictures. The volunteer with the ticket bucket stays busy signing up children for the special bike raffle.

When the last egg is plucked from the field and the last of the prizes claimed, the families crowd into the library’s pavilion and fill the picnic tables out on the lawn. Thank-yous are announced and the sponsors receive a round of applause. Library staff members draw the names of the four bicycle winners, who line up with big smiles and new bicycles for the annual picture. One last round of applause erupts before the crowd disperses. It is a beautiful day filled with lasting memories.

This is the true story of a library, a non-profit, and a village of 2,635 and how they came together to create a community tradition that now boasts 6,000 candy filled Easter eggs at the annual Community Easter Parade and Egg Hunts.

The story begins in 2010. After the financial recession of 2008, the village was struggling with 40% of its residents living at or below the poverty level. The village was about 74% Hispanic and the majority of this populace had migrated from Mexico. Most of the adult immigrants had 4th-6th grade education levels and spoke only Spanish. The high school graduation rate was 50% because parents encouraged their children to drop out of school and get jobs to help support the family. Ninety-five percent of the children received free or reduced lunches at school. The village was doing the best they could with the resources they had but they were stretched thin and challenged with language barriers, educational barriers, and cultural differences.

The first egg hunt was part of a weekly story time and hosted by two library staff members. The library prepared about 200 Easter eggs. Some eggs had small prizes stuffed inside; most had a couple pieces of candy. It was the best the library could do with a small programming budget and a few donations. The eggs were placed out on the library’s lawn. With a simple countdown, the small multi-age group of children quickly gathered up the eggs. The families were invited inside the library to finish the celebration with cookies and punch. The smiles on the children’s faces as they checked their eggs for prizes were all the staff needed to see before planning to repeat the program the following year.

That same year, on the other side of the village, was a similar Easter event held by a local non-profit group that hoped to bring a little joy to the community they loved to serve. Like the library, they were aware of the lack of resources in the village and they just wanted to see some smiles on the children’s faces. Easter seemed like the perfect time to give back to this community.

The library and the non-profit were guided by the village’s motto, “City of Good Neighbors,” to make things better for residents. It was a simple phone call from the library to the non-profit that started the idea to combine the Easter events into one community event. Another phone call to the village was made and the library, the non-profit, and the village scheduled a meeting. Each organization discussed its needs and goals and a plan began to unfold.

The library’s goal was to welcome all families to the library so they could read, self educate, and make connections to resources and technology. The library was seeking ways to reach out beyond the brick and mortar of the building and find ways to become a part of the village. The library agreed to host the event, providing access to drinking fountains and bathrooms, a large field, a playground, and a pavilion area. The library staff would also go out into the business community to seek donations, support, and volunteers.

The non-profit is a group of local businesses and services with a shared goal to bring resources to the Hispanic community. They needed a way to reach families in this word-of-mouth village and to gain trust of the residents. The non-profit’s members agreed to be vendors for the community event. Each vendor would donate 200 candy-filled eggs. Inside the eggs the vendors put some winning tickets for larger prizes so the children and families would come to their vendor table to receive their prizes. During the participants’ table visits the vendors would introduce themselves, supply brochures explaining services available, and answer questions while passing out the prizes. Vendors would bring their own tent, table, and chairs. Some would march in the parade or bring a mascot to participate in the fun. Some spoke Spanish while others brought interpreters.

The village’s goal was to bring their families together. The thought of a community event with a hometown parade and egg hunts on the lawn at the library was a wonderful addition to their efforts. The village agreed to allow the support of the fire and police departments to assist with a parade. The fire chief became the parade chairman. The parade would begin at Village Hall and end at the library. The police department also agreed to provide hot dogs, chips, and drinks. The street department would deliver picnic tables, trash cans, and cones to help mark the egg field.

The next year the library, the non-profit, and the village hosted their first Community Easter Parade and Egg Hunts. It was proudly advertised on the library and Village Hall marquees. Each year the event has grown and grown into what it is today: from 200 eggs to more than 6,000 eggs; from a couple dozen children to hundreds of children; from a few vendors to over twenty vendors; from 150 free hot dogs, chips, and drinks to 500. Almost 1,000 participants attended the most recent event. Some of the oldest children who attended the first community event are now bringing their children back so they too can enjoy this tradition. The parents share their memories as they prepare their child for the countdown to the egg hunt.

So, who are the library, the non-profit, and the village? It doesn’t really matter. It also doesn't need to be an Easter event, either; this approach is suitable to any sort of public celebration or event. What matters is that this could be any library, non-profit, and municipality; the ones profiled here chose to ponder the possibilities of working together rather than be daunted by differences. They created the warmth of tradition and instilled a sense of pride and unity in a community. In the end, they received more than they could have imagined.

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