Sno-Isle Libraries foundation helping families address back-to-school needs

Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation Director Paul Pitkin

Families with school-age children facing the uncertainties of the coming school year are getting help from the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation.

The foundation is funding books, computers and Wi-Fi hotspots to support families through a new initiative called the Opportunity Fund.

“We developed this fund in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its continued impact on Sno-Isle communities across Snohomish and Island counties,” Foundation Executive Director Paul Pitkin said. “With our funding, we are partnering with professionals at Sno-Isle Libraries and community-based service agencies to address literacy and technology needs for families and students.”

The Opportunity Fund is helping bridge the widening digital divide by providing funding for laptop computers for students as well as individual Wi-Fi hotspots to provide internet access. The foundation is also funding the Home Library Project, which delivers book bags containing up to 10 books aimed at developing and improving early literacy. The books are selected by Sno-Isle Libraries staff members.

To identify recipients and distribute the laptops and hotspots, Sno-Isle Libraries staff members connected with local school districts. So far, participating district include Darrington, Granite Falls, Lakewood, Marysville, Monroe, Oak Harbor, Snohomish, South Whidbey, Stanwood and Sultan.

In addition to helping students and families participate in online school work, the laptops and hotspots provide access to all of the educational-support resources available through Sno-Isle Libraries. Besides, books and digital materials, a free library-card account opens up assistance such as homework help, many databases and reference services, Book-a-Librarian, online tutoring, and online study groups.

To identify Home Library Project recipients, Sno-Isle Libraries is working with Stanwood Camano Food Bank, Making Life Work, Whidbey Island Nourishes, ChildStrive, Growing Together, Cocoon House North, All Families are Ready, and Early Head Start. The book bags are distributed through the partner agencies.

Books for families are included to encourage parents to read with their children. Studies have shown that just having books available in the home dramatically improves a child’s literacy, and that life-long literacy and a love of learning begins at an early age.

More than 1,000 books have been distributed through Home Library Project so far with more to be delivered in the coming months.

Pitkin said the foundation is contacting additional Opportunity Fund partners to support outreach and funding.

“The pandemic is really highlighting the importance of equity of access for all the communities that Sno-Isle Libraries serves,” Pitkin said. “It was a priority before the pandemic, but now it’s especially urgent. Students don’t know how many classes they’ll be attending in person this coming school year, and library parking lots are full of people in their cars accessing free Wi-Fi service from the building.”

Pitkin said library staff are seeing online library use increase since pandemic-related restrictions were imposed making internet access all the more important.

“At the same time, children need actual books to learn to read and keep up their literacy skills and the Home Library Project is doing just that,” Pitkin said. “I’m so grateful to our community partners for helping us make that happen. These are difficult times, but it’s so inspiring to see our communities come together.

The Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation Opportunity Fund goal is $250,000. For more information about the fund and contribution opportunities, go to or contact Paul Pitkin, 206-618-3761,

  1. This sounds like a great program!
    It is a bit unclear how these services are being coordinated and overlap with existing programs. There was an article in MEN on September 7th talking about how hot spots, learning materials, and even Chrombooks are being provided by the school district to those in need. How is this program different, or what gap is it filling that is not being filled by the school district?

  2. Chris, I agree that it sounds amazing! I initially had the same thought/question about duplicating programs. Sadly, even if programs were duplicated the need is always greater than services available. The article mentions this program is only serving specific districts within the Sno-Isle boundaries. Locally the Edmonds School District began providing resources to make distance learning equitable for its students last Spring.

    All ESD students have been given access to Chromebooks, and measures have been taken to provide supplies and Wifi. Unfortunately, although the district has provided hotspots they did not provide enough speed to run student’s classes via Zoom. A no-cost Wifi program with limited enrollment has since been made available through Comcast for students who receive free and reduced lunch, but this was only for new customers.

    In my family’s case, we have the most basic Comcast plan for $40 month, so we didn’t qualify. We have not had enough speed for even 1 class Zoom meeting without regular connection interruptions, screen freezing, etc. It has made on-line learning a nightmare (especially for young students, those receiving special education services, and limited attention spans, etc.)!

    Now with Distance Learning 2.0 my kids will be attending online classes simultaneously. The only way I could have them start school was to increase the monthly Wifi plan and double cost of my Comcast bill. I have 29 days to find an alternative Wifi program before needing to cancel and revert back to my original $40 plan, which I can barely afford as is.

    Knowing the challenges faced by so many, I am fortunate this is my only barrier … but its still so hard. I commend and thank Sno-Isle and ESD for doing so much to make learning equitable and to serve students!

  3. Lynnwood did a survey to find out what people really need. Why didn’t Edmonds do this? Whatever happened to the homeless survey they did?

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