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Justin Armos gets a free lunch from Sloan Storey in the Bloom Truck on Tuesday at Hemingway STEAM School.

The Bloom Truck is back in action this month. A joint operation between The Hunger Coalition and The Community Library, the truck visits locations throughout Blaine County—from Carey to Ketchum and several places in between—dispensing meals, books and activities to children for free.

Normally, the Bloom Truck begins its operations at the beginning of June and continues them throughout the summer, fulfilling a dual purpose of both ensuring that children who may depend on school for meals stay well-fed throughout the vacation and to encourage them to keep reading, even without assignments. Traditionally, the truck loans books from the library’s collection. For the time being, with some new health protocols in the mix, the library will be giving books away for free for the kids to keep.

Plenty of other community partners help see the job through, with grants from the Papoose Club and private citizens underwriting expenses, and with area organizations helping assemble activity kits—this week’s was produced by the Flourish Foundation.

As reported in the June 5 edition of the Mountain Express, in light of extra strain felt valleywide because of the coronavirus, the Blaine County School District has opted to continue delivering lunches to students through June 26, meaning the Bloom Truck—like most things these days—is operating a little differently this year.

Until June 26, the Bloom Truck will only operate a few days a week in a select few locations, but the library is still active every day distributing free “Bloom Bags” at the Carey School on Mondays, The Meadows and Hemingway STEAM School on Tuesdays, Bellevue Elementary on Wednesdays, Hemingway again on Thursdays and Kiwanis Park in Hailey on Fridays.

Each “Bloom Bag” contains a snack, a little activity kit and a book. The children can pick out their own books from a selection curated by the library, including fiction and nonfiction, English and Spanish, and divided up by grade level. The library is offering materials for anyone up to age 18.

Once the School District’s grant-funded meal-delivery project comes to an end, the Bloom Truck will resume its usual summer rounds to the Carey Fairgrounds, Bellevue Park, The Meadows, Hemingway school and Kiwanis Park.

The restructuring has not hurt attendance, though. According to Assistant Children’s Librarian Helen Morgus, who helps head things up on the library’s end, she and her squad of summer interns distributed 143 “Bloom Bags” across five locations during the first week of operation.

“The response has been really good everywhere we’ve gone,” Morgus said. “In Carey last week and on Monday we got 52 kids. We’ve also been seeing an unexpectedly high rate of middle school-and-up readers. The Bloom Truck is usually more popular with younger kids, but we’re going through young adult books like crazy.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Morgus was at Hemingway alongside teen intern Lily Pogue, a rising senior at the Sun Valley Community School, and The Hunger Coalition’s program coordinator, Sloan Storey. Children of all ages—from teens down to those who could hardly walk—started showing up within minutes of their arrival, enjoying healthy snacks, books and activities.

“I love the program,” Pogue said. “We’re all excited to do this, to help out, go to all the locations, and get books out to kids.”

Pogue is one of four interns—Elisabeth Ruiz Loera, Jett Carruth and Lupe Hurtado are the others—who assist Morgus out in the field. For the time being, when the Bloom Truck is not also making its rounds, the library team visits locations in their own cars, distributing books as the School District distributes meals.

In a normal year, the Bloom Truck acts as a two-in-one food truck/bookmobile, and Morgus and her Hunger Coalition counterparts believe they will likely shift back into regular rounds in July.

“We’re hoping that as the library relaxes its quarantining protocols we can start lending out of the Bloom Truck,” Morgus said.

Though the library has reopened its doors and is once again circulating materials, limits on returns and procedures for quarantining items once they come back to the library could make a Bloom-based loaning system difficult.

“In the meantime, we have over 500 books to give out right now,” she explained.

A parent attending the Bloom Truck on Tuesday asked Morgus if the books would eventually have to be returned to the library, to which she responded, “This is what’s so cool about these. These are the ‘seedlings’ we’re giving away—a free book that you get to keep. This summer we want kids to start planting the seeds of their own book collection.”

The library’s summer reading program is also in full swing now for both children and teens. Those who stop by the Bloom Truck or receive one of the library’s “Bloom Bags” can also register and pick up a reading log. Registration for summer reading is also available on The Community Library website.

Like much else this summer, the summer reading program has gone digital to maintain social distancing and accommodate other newly arisen public health concerns.

The situation, and by extension the Bloom Truck’s situation, is still developing and is subject to further change as all associated organizations adjust to a new normal.

Even with a certain degree of uncertainty, though, the Bloom team is hard at work making a difference to area youngsters as the summer gets underway. By Wednesday afternoon—with trips to Hemingway and Kiwanis Park still to come on Thursday and Friday—Morgus counted another 114 books and kits given away to local children, bringing her total from the first 10 days of operation up to 257.

Learn more about the Bloom Truck at comlib.org or thehungercoalition.org.

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