For many families, the stability, nutrition, and education that is provided by the school lunch program, the school day, and after-school programs, ends when school lets out for summer. During the summer vacation, children and teens in low-income families often struggle to have their basic needs met, and for many, the summer months mean reduced or limited access to healthy food, learning and enrichment programs, and safe places to congregate and be active.

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.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

Research also shows that as a result of having limited summertime opportunities, children and teens in low-income families suffer significantly from a loss of academic skills during the summer months and they 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;
  • establish summer meal sites that provide youth with learning and enrichment opportunities along with the meal service; and
  • establish summer meal sites that appeal to children, teens, and their families.

Lunch at the Library programs — accessible, popular with families, providing healthy meals and learning and enrichment opportunities, and free of charge — are helping to address the need for appealing, enriching, summer meal sites, and are helping to ensure that children and teens return to school in the fall ready to learn.


  1. “Hunger and Poverty Statistics,” Feeding America, accessed April 12, 2013,
  2. “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report,” Food Research and Action Center, June 2016, accessed August 26, 2016,
  3. “Summer Can Set Kids on the Right — or Wrong — Course,” National Summer Learning Association, n.d., accessed August 30, 2016,