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As a car pulled up to Irving School Wednesday afternoon to pick up a free lunch, two women waved down the driver to ask if his kid would like a free book.

An elementary-aged girl hopped out of the car to browse titles fanned across a folding table. There were a variety of novels, picture books and those for young readers. With help from Bozeman librarians Cindy Christin and Julie Kline, the girl picked out a few books, said thanks, and was on her way. All three wore cloth masks.

Christin, head of the children’s department at Bozeman Public Library, said these are the kinds of interactions that make her feel like she’s doing her job again. The library building is closed and staff have been providing some library programs, like Books and Babies and Storytime, over video, but it’s not the same, Christin said.

“We all miss the connection to families in Bozeman, and this is as close as we can get to that right now,” Christin said.

The library began giving away books last week and will continue the program on Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., through June 10. Staff set up shop at Irving School, Hyalite Elementary and Bozeman High School, places where families already go to pick up free lunches courtesy of the school district.

The free books, for preschoolers through seniors in high school, are provided by Friends of the Library, which collects donated materials to sell during fundraisers. After the first two days last week, the library had given away 175 books. The Library Foundation bought additional books for the giveaway, including bilingual materials for children whose first language isn’t English.

Christin said that even if the library’s cache of donated books runs out before June 10, the foundation will likely buy more from Country Bookshelf.

“We just want to get books in their hands,” Chrisitn said

Kim Hohenstein, coordinator of the after school program KidsLINK in Belgrade, stopped by Irving Elementary Wednesday and found some books for middle school students she works with. She’s been having students keep journals on what they’re reading and then chats with them about it during walks.

Hohenstein said books help her students use their imaginations, escape from everyday life and connect to something.

“It’s crucial right now for these kids to make connections,” Hohenstein said.

Kline agreed that connections are important. She said the giveaway is allowing staff to interact with kids and parents the way they normally would in the library.

“It just feels really good to talk to people about books again,” Kline said.

The book giveaway will end on June 10, but Christin said the library plans to offer interactive services to kids in conjunction with the Gallatin Valley Food Bank free summer lunch program for kids that starts in June.

“This is the perfect opportunity to reach out to kids while the library is closed,” Christin said.

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Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2607.