The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s summer nutrition programs enable school districts and other eligible community-based organizations to alleviate the summer nutrition gap by offering free, healthy meals to children and youth in low-income neighborhoods. In California, the program is administered and overseen by the California Department of Education’s Nutrition Services Division (CDE). Sponsoring agencies are reimbursed by USDA for providing meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines outlined in the program and are designed specifically to serve children ages 18 and under only.

The summer meal sponsor, often a school district, city/county agency, or nonprofit organization, acts as the administrative and fiscal agent for the program.The sponsor provides the meals that are served at the site. Meal service must comply with requirements specified by USDA and the state agency. Learn more about who is eligible to be sponsor and how sponsorship works here.

The summer meal site, such as a library, is the physical location where the meals will be served. Site staff are tasked with handling and serving meals, monitoring food to ensure it complies with health and safety regulations and other program rules, such as tracking the number of meals served, and record-keeping.

While libraries may be eligible to act as both a sponsor and a site, this guide focuses on establishing libraries as summer meal sites. USDA summer meal programs are required to follow a prescribed set of rules to ensure program integrity and safety. Therefore, it is recommended that libraries become acquainted with the program by acting as a summer meal site in the first year prior to consideration of taking on a significantly larger role as a sponsor. Summer meal sites do not bear the cost of providing the meals that they serve.

USDA has two primary summer nutrition programs:

The Seamless Summer Feeding Option (SSFO) enables school districts or county offices of education operating the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or School Breakfast Program (SBP) to offer summer meals using the same meal service and claiming procedures as those used during the school year.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) enables a broad range of agencies including schools schools, tribal governments, units of city or county government, and other public or private nonprofit agencies to offer summer meals at eligible community or school sites.

The summer meal sponsor, often a school district, city/county agency, or nonprofit, acts as the administrative and fiscal agent for the program. Meal service must comply with requirements specified by USDA and the state agency. Learn more about who is eligible to be sponsor and how sponsorship works here.

The summer meal site, such as a library,  is the physical location where the meals will be served. Site staff are tasked with handling and serving meals, monitoring food to ensure it complies with health and safety regulations and other program rules, tracking the number of meals served, and record-keeping.

While libraries may be eligible to act as both a sponsor and a site, this guide focuses on establishing libraries as summer meal sites. USDA summer meal programs are required to follow a prescribed set of rules to ensure program integrity and safety. Therefore, it is recommended that libraries become acquainted with the program by acting as a summer meal site in the first year prior to consideration of taking on a significantly larger role as a sponsor.

USDA summer nutrition programs are offered in all 50 states, administered through each state. Libraries and partners outside of California should contact their respective state agency to learn more about summer food program procedures in their state.

Please note: The Lunch at the Library guides and resources represent the viewpoints of CLA and CSMC, and the experiences of those involved with Lunch at the Library, exclusively. Questions regarding USDA summer nutrition program policies and procedures should always be directed to the state agency administering the program or USDA.