Credit: Forest Park Public Library

Even before the library’s Forest Park Cares fund was officially created, donations were already pouring in.

According to the Forest Park Public Library executive director Vicki Rakowski, since the first online newsletter announcing the fund landed in patrons inboxes Nov. 16, they received “hundreds” of dollars in donations as of Nov. 20. The library board didn’t officially create the fund until its regular meeting later that day. 

The fund will be used to help finance the library’s services for patrons dealing with issues such as food insecurity and housing insecurity, including replenishing and providing CTA passes for patrons who shelter at the library during the day and who need help reaching the overnight shelter once the library closes. 

It’s not unusual for individuals who lack stable housing to go to the library to take shelter and use resources such as computers. The Forest Park library is within walking distance of the Forest Park Blue Line terminal, which is also a major hub for west suburban Pace bus routes. Because the Blue Line operates around the clock, it isn’t unusual for homeless individuals to shelter on the trains at night and go to the library in the morning. Tent encampments are a regular fixture on the CSX railway embankment that tuns through Forest Park, including the section directly south of the CTA terminal. 

According to the 2023 Point in Time Count survey, 300 people in west suburban Cook County were without permanent housing who used some type of shelter, and 35 who didn’t have any kind of shelter. The annual survey attempts to capture a snapshot of homelessness in January.

Much of what the Forest Park Cares fund will pay for isn’t new. The library had the Little Free Pantry, a Little Free Library-like box where anyone can pick up or leave non-perishable food, for the past four years. In the winter of 2021, the library put in the Comfort Cabinet, which offers free clothes, hygiene supplies and some basic medical supplies. 

The library staff also gives CTA passes to patrons who, Rakowski said, would otherwise “get stranded” once the library closes, allowing them to go to a shelter.  The staff quarters to patrons who need to use the library payphone. The funding would also be used to create kits with laundry supplies patrons can use at laundromats. 

According to the library newsletter, officials decided to set up a fund because the library didn’t have enough money to keep up with the need.

“While we are not a social services agency, we brainstormed ways that the library could bridge the gap in our services,” the newsletter said. “We decided to create a fund to help us provide items/services that are outside of what the library can spend its budget on, but will provide some assistance to people in need.”

 Rakowski said that they also wanted to make it clear that they weren’t using taxpayer money for the services. 

While the fund will initially rely on donations, she said that they will be applying for grants as well.

Rakowski said that she was conscious of the fact that they are asking for donations at the time when “it seems like, everywhere I turn, I see a flyer for a coat drive.” But given the need she and her staff see every day, doing nothing wasn’t an option.

“In the end of the night, it’s nice not to have to say to someone ‘ I’m sorry, I can’t help you,’” Rakowski said. 

Donations can be made online using the donation button on the fund page of the library website, or in person at the library’s information desk. The staff accepts donations in cash, by check or by credit card.