(from left) Victoria Palmatier, Michelle Lipar, and Irene Blean hand out free winter coats at Barbour Library

(from left) Victoria Palmatier, Michelle Lipar, and Irene Blean hand out free winter coats at Barbour Library

As people gathered to received free winter coats and bags of food at Barbour Library, Michelle Lipar, an intern at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work, worked the line.

“Hello, remember me, I haven’t seen you in a while,” she called out to a customer.

She handed out flyers with her contact information and a list of the services the library offers. “If you need any other help, I’m the social work intern at the library,” she said.

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Lipar handing out fliers

Lipar, Barbour Library manager Irene Blean, and children’s library Victoria Palmatier set up on the sidewalk outside the library branch. Liz Castle, HPL’s programming manager, pulled up with the Library on Wheels and started handing out free books. The team was set to make a small, but tangible impact that day – they were going to help people get warm.

Lipar hatched the idea a couple of weeks back and started looking for donations. Button Up Connecticut, a non-profit organization whose mission is to collect clean, new and gently used coats and distribute them to residents in need all across Connecticut, donated 60 coats. She sought other donations to fund the bags of food. “People gave me stuff,” Lipar said.

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Blean, second from right, talks to customers

A lot of social work involves working through processes that can often be daunting for someone seeking help. What Lipar liked about this particular project is that there was no barrier to entry – if someone was cold and needed a coat, they got one, no questions asked.

“It was a way to directly access people,” she said.

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Palmatier helping a family pick out coats for their kids

The men’s coats went quickly. Some people came with their children. The HPL team worked through the line, urging people to make sure they took socks and food.

The North End is Hartford’s poorest neighborhood, Blean said. “The pandemic makes it even worse,” she said. “You can’t be successful with regular library programming until you address basic needs.”

When Blean has an event like this she works the phone, calling neighborhood groups and local non-profits to find people who might benefit. She e-mails customers personally. She, like her counterparts across the Hartford Public Library system, are tireless in trying to help.

“This is my way of saying we are still here for you,” she said.

For Lipar, Thursday’s event was part of an ongoing learning experience. “I learned that I have a lot to learn. The things I think they want or need might not be the thing they want or need. I have to listen and to pay attention and be where they are,” Lipar said.

By Steven Scarpa, manager of public relations and communications

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