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'Baby steps' cited in fighting poverty, illiteracy

Every month a shrink-wrapped book addressed to 20-month-old Ivy Lynn Fletcher arrives in her Lincoln Park mailbox for free. "For some parts of the book, she'll know what I'm going to say before I say it," said mother Ashley Craig, because the two...

Every month a shrink-wrapped book addressed to 20-month-old Ivy Lynn Fletcher arrives in her Lincoln Park mailbox for free.

"For some parts of the book, she'll know what I'm going to say before I say it," said mother Ashley Craig, because the two have read the first couple of books dozens of times. "She points at pictures and I'll ask her questions throughout the book."

Fletcher is one of 1,200 kids in the Duluth area who already have been signed up for Dolly Parton's Imagination Library program, in which the family receives a free book each month until age 5.

The early-literacy coalition found organizations to pay $35 a year per child for the program, which launched in September, as an investment in literacy.

The Imagination Library is one example of a battery of efforts the United Way of Greater Duluth assisted in launching, based in part on statistics summarized in last year's grim Community Impact Report.

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This year's report will be publicly unveiled during a noon news conference today at the Holiday Inn. It highlights the plethora of new and old efforts by organizations throughout the city and state aimed at such efforts as boosting literacy and ending hunger.

The United Way plans to roll out a report full of statistics every five years to measure the success of its programs, said the agency's president, Paula Reed.

"Progress takes time," Reed said. "Have we made some baby steps? Absolutely."

The United Way of Great Duluth covers the Twin Ports region.

This year's report says more than 3,000 people each month in Duluth receive groceries from food shelves, nearly 40 percent of whom are children. To help address this ongoing need, the Duluth Hunger Coalition developed a system to find the gaps and duplication of services between various food shelves, and boosted the number of meals available.

As further evidence of the desire for cheap and free food, the Duluth area food bank, Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, also announced Tuesday that it was breaking ground on a $1.6 million expansion.

In February the city launched a foreclosure task force to research the problem of mortgage foreclosures, organizing a borrower workshop attended by 60 households. Lutheran Social Service also provides mortgage foreclosure counseling.

A team is preparing to launch a car loan program this fall to help low-income residents who can't get a traditional loan, the United Way report stated.

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The full report will be available online this afternoon at www.unitedwayduluth.org .

For more information on the Imagination Library, pick up an application at Super One, the Duluth Public Library, or register at www.unitedwayduluth.org/impacting_imaginationlibrary.htm .

PATRICK GARMOE can be reached at (218) 723-5229 or pgarmoe@duluthnews.com

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