10 Days of Giving

Public Libraries Give Back to Communities During Holiday Season

Several weeks ago, Jackie Rammer, the director of the Menomonee Falls Public Library, received a message from someone asking if the library was running a book drive. The question had come from a mother whose three-year-old daughter was looking for a way to give books to other kids during the holiday season. Rammer thought it was such a great idea, she immediately started one up at the library!

Community members donated 625 books in the span of a month. “We have been overwhelmed with the response!” Rammer said. “We are so grateful for children and their never-ending giving spirit during these times, and we can always learn something from them.”

All year, public libraries provide books, entertainment, study space, Internet and computer access, and learning opportunities. They’re also connection points within their communities, linking people to essential resources and offering support to other local organizations. This holiday season was no different. The libraries and library staff in Jefferson and Waukesha counties were creative in spreading cheer and providing ways to support their communities this year.

If you walk into the lobby of the Jefferson Public Library, you will see Rubbermaid tubs stacked with blankets and coats, and drawers full of hats, coats, and socks. This is the Kiwanis Closet, a collection of free warm clothes of all sizes.

Every winter, the library partners with the Jefferson Kiwanis Club, who collects and cleans the items. The library then distributes the warm items from their lobby to anyone who may need them, no questions asked. According to librarian Angie Rosch, the need is great, and they go through a ton of items every winter.

The Pewaukee Public Library staff organized a Food For Fines campaign this December. Library patrons dropped off non-perishable food items for the Pewaukee Food Pantry; to encourage donations, library staff reduced their library fines. Librarian Kelly Nelson said even people who don’t have fines donate food. “They’re just eager to help those who might be in need.” After the first day of the program, Nelson said the bucket in the library lobby was full!

In Waterloo, the Karl Junginger Memorial Library coordinated a Giving Tree for the holidays. Library visitors had the opportunity to choose tags from the tree and shop for gifts for local seniors and the library’s Meals On Wheels participants.

Gifted items this year included puzzles, chocolates, blankets, grippy socks, body care items, and more. Library staff then delivers the gifts in time for the holidays. Donations poured in from individuals and local businesses.

“This will be the 5th year for the program,” said librarian Amanda Brueckner, “and each year people have been more and more generous.”

Furry friends received help from the patrons of the New Berlin Public Library. Library visitors can take home kits to make a tie-blanket and treats for the animals at the Humane Animal Welfare Society of Waukesha County, and then return the finished items to the library. Library staff will donate everything to HAWS in January. Librarian Shannon Gulgren said the goal was to gather 31 blankets to donate- one for each day in December. “Hopefully these blankets will keep the animals in need warm for the holidays!” Gulgren said.

At the Waukesha Public Library, you’ll see a multitude of colorful hearts hanging in the windows. Library staff started making the paper hearts after the tragic events at the Christmas parade on November 21, but they soon started asking members of the Waukesha community to add their own messages of hope and healing.

“We will help each other through this,” one heart reads. “Much love, Waukesha. Mucho amor,” another says.

The library also created Compassion Kits for people to take home, in partnership with Healing Hearts of Southeast Wisconsin.

Whether it’s a coat, a card, or a canned good, each gesture is a reminder of the power of connection and the importance of places, like our public libraries, where we can share what we have, knowing we all benefit from being part of a community.

Written by Jill Fuller. A version of this article appeared in several local newspapers in December 2021. We are sharing those pieces here on our website a few weeks after each piece has been printed.