For many families, the stability, nutrition, and education provided during the school year ends when school lets out for summer. During the summer vacation, children and teens in low-income families often have reduced or limited access to healthy food, learning opportunities, and safe places to congregate, and struggle to have their basic needs met.
16.7 million children and teens under the age of 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food for a healthy life.1 The USDA Summer Food Service Program helps to ensure that children and teens receive nutritious meals when school is not in session by enabling school districts and other community-based organizations to offer healthy meals to children and youth in low-income neighborhoods. However, only 1 in 6 children and teens who receive free or reduced-price meals at school also receive free meals during the summer.2
Summer Learning Loss
Research also shows that as a result of having limited opportunities during the summer, children and teens in low-income families lose academic skills and experience greater summer learning loss than their peers in higher-income families. This summer learning shortfall widens the achievement gap and can impact whether or not a child graduates from high school and continues on to college.3
To help ensure that all children are nourished and engaged during the summer months, there is a clear and urgent need to:
- establish more summer meal sites;
- increase learning and enrichment programming at summer meal sites; and
- increase the number of summer meal sites that appeal to children, teens, and their families.
Addressing the Need
Public libraries are resource-rich, accessible, and trusted community hubs, and they are natural spaces for serving summer meals to children and teens:
- Families feel comfortable coming to the library for lunch.
- Public library summer programs encourage children and teens to set reading goals, engage them in activities that extend the reading experience, and connect them with library staff who can help guide their reading choices and become positive role models.
- Teens develop social-emotional and workforce readiness skills by serving as program volunteers.
- Library staff connect participating families with essential services and resources.
- Feeding America: http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/hunger-and-poverty-statistics.aspx?
- “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report: https://www.summerlearning.org/knowledge-center/hunger-doesnt-take-a-vacation-summer-nutrition-status-report-2020/
- “Summer Can Set Kids on the Right — or Wrong — Course,” National Summer Learning Association, n.d., accessed August 30, 2016, http://summerlearning.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/SummerCanSetKidsOnTheRightOrWrongCourse.pdf
Photo credits: San Mateo County Libraries, Tulare County Library & Pleasant View Elementary