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Lunch at the Library in California brief program overview (5:40 mins)


Lunch at the Library provides children and teens with nutritious meals and learning opportunities, connects families with essential services and resources, and fosters community collaboration.

By the Numbers Summer 2021 (COVID-19 response)

  • Over 308,000 summer meals were served at California public libraries during Summer 2021.
  • 118 library outlets, in 39 library jurisdictions, in 23 counties, served meals and snacks (a 20% increase over the number of library meal sites in 2020 and a 15% increase over the number of counties with libraries serving meals and snacks in 2020).
  • 49 library jurisdictions, in 31 counties, took pop-up library services out to 426 community summer meal sites (a 7% increase over the number of pop-up library sites in 2020).
  • Over 91,700 free books were distributed by libraries at summer meal sites.
  • Over 111,900 take-home S.T.E.A.M./enrichment kits were distributed by libraries at summer meal sites.
  • Over 1,170 learning and enrichment programs were presented for participants at summer meal sites.

By the Numbers Summer 2020 (COVID-19 response)

  • 296,124 summer meals were served to children and teens at California public libraries during summer 2020.
  • 98 library outlets, in 30 library jurisdictions, in 20 counties, served meals and snacks.
  • 52 library jurisdictions took pop-up library services out to 394 community summer meal sites, a 242.6% increase in number of pop-up sites over those offered in 2019 (115 sites).
  • 394 community summer meal sites in 52 library jurisdictions distributed 123,768 free books.
  • 67 library jurisdictions in 32 counties distributed free educational materials both on-site at libraries and out at community meal sites: A grand total of 176,934 free books and 180,731 STEAM/family engagement activity kits.

By the Numbers Fall 2020 (COVID-19 response)

  • 145,029 fall meals were served to children and teens at California public libraries.
  • 21 library outlets, in 9 library jurisdictions, in 8 counties, served fall meals.
  • 30 library jurisdictions in 18 counties took pop-up library programs out to 193 fall community meal sites.
  • 48,638 Lunch at the Library take-home programming kits/activities were distributed by libraries at fall library-based meal sites and community meal sites.
  • 42,609 free books were distributed by libraries at fall library-based meal sites and community meal sites.

By the Numbers 2019

  • 289,587 summer meals and 39,737 snacks were served to children and teens at California public libraries during summer 2019.
  • 219 library outlets, in 63 library jurisdictions, in 30 counties, served meals and snacks.
  • 35 library jurisdictions took 634 pop-up library programs out to 115 community summer meal sites.
  • 159 branch and main libraries presented 8,507 learning and enrichment programs for 260,867 participants at their summer meal sites.
  • 13% of families reported that they didn’t get lunch anywhere else but the library during the summer.

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2021 Infographics coming soon!
*Note: Libraries can access the Infographic template to customize with their local data.  Please click here for more information.

Value to Families

Families who participate in Lunch at the Library programs know they can get help and essential resources at the library1:

  • 88% of people surveyed reported that they got help at the library this summer

Families who participate in Lunch at the Library programs report positive associations with libraries1:

  • 94% reported they enjoyed taking part in activities
  • 95% reported they look forward to visiting the library again

Families who take part in Lunch at the Library programs discover and participate in learning opportunities at the library1:

  • 91% of participants in learning and enrichment activities reported that they learned something by participating in the library activity

Families who take part in Lunch at the Library programs gain a valuable introduction to library services1:

  • 40% of participants report it is the first time they took part in a summer library activity
  • 91% of participants report they plan to take part in library activities after summer

Library summer meal programs:

  • Support the physical, emotional, and developmental health of low-income children in the community.
  • Engage children and youth in summer reading programs and other library programming.
  • Provide community service opportunities for youth.
  • Provide a trusted community space for children and their families to go when school is out.
  • Provide families with access to technology and other community resources and services.
  • Provide economic and nutritional value for many families living in “food deserts” and under financial distress.
  • Provide children, teens, and adults with intergenerational experiences and offer opportunities for social interaction with a diverse group of people.
  • Create a new awareness of the library of an important source of support for families.
  • Introduce children to new foods and help families teach etiquette around eating in public.
  • Provide families with the opportunity to make new friends.

“Thank you so much for offering this program, especially during challenging times like during this pandemic.”– L@L parent

“[I’m] thankful the library was providing activities for children to do at home…that was a real need with students having been out of school physically for so long.” – L@L participant

“Thank you for finding new ways to keep open to the public!” – L@L participant

Service during COVID-19

Libraries marshalled resources to provide meals and other valuable services despite challenging restrictions from the pandemic:

  • Many libraries began the summer lunch program months early, in response to children being out of school earlier.
  • Libraries pivoted to provide programming that met social-distancing guidelines. They assembled take-home activity kits, distributed free books, and created virtual programs that could be viewed online.
  • Libraries recognized the extenuating services of COVID-19 meant more families than ever would need access to summer meals. To meet this need, libraries expanded their community meal sites to a variety of locations. These included migrant farmworker camps, apartment complexes, government subsidized housing, medical clinics and health centers, faith centers, parks, schools, food banks, senior centers, shopping centers, tribal reservations, culinary schools, community centers, and mobile home parks.
  • Several libraries extended summer meal service into the fall to account for children attending school virtually in the fall.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force, you could see the needs of our community with each meal site we went to. The long lines of families waiting for food only ensured us this program was essential and made us proud that we could provide Library programming on top of the food that was being distributed.”– L@L Librarian

“Families were excited to see library staff giving out packets, and word of mouth spread quickly that we were giving out craft bags. The number of lunches handed out was triple previous years.”– L@L Librarian

“All parents thanked us for the lunch and take-away packets. One parent said she valued the books and packets as much as the food.” – L@L Librarian

Value to Libraries

Library staff has reported an impact on library use and summer reading program participation, and enhanced relationships with families. Library summer meal programs have helped to:

  • Attract new families to library services and expands existing patrons’ knowledge of available library resources.
  • Develop new partnerships with schools, other city and county agencies, and community partners.
  • Provide increased visibility and credibility for library services and resources.
  • Facilitate staff engagement, build morale, and provide opportunities for staff development.
  • Provide new opportunities to engage Friends groups and youth volunteers.

The Pew Research Center has reported that while most Americans know where their local library is, many are unfamiliar with all the services libraries offer. Lunch at the Library provides librarians with great opportunities to introduce families to their services and resources, as well as helping them feel and become more healthy.

“We noticed a lot of new families who had not visited the library in the past. Because of the free summer lunch program, they learned about all of the great resources and programs that our library has to offer.”– L@L Librarian

The Lunch at the Library collaboration helped libraries forge new partnerships with school districts, food banks, public health departments, and other community-based organizations.

“The school sites supported through this grant were grateful to be able to provide these books to their students and it has strengthened our partnership. They have reached out asking what other learning enrichment we can give them in the future.”– L@L Librarian


Value to Communities

Library summer meal programs have helped schools and nonprofits increase access to healthy food. They have also helped to generate community among both providers and program participants. They:

  • Foster intergovernmental collaboration and leverage existing community assets.
  • Build out-of-school time infrastructure to support low-income children and youth.
  • Create a shared vision for healthy families and healthy communities.
  • Foster a sense of community among participants.
  • Foster a sense of community among volunteers.

“The library blesses the neighborhood” – L@TL participant

1. 366 people in 11 library jurisdictions completed surveys in 2020.


Program Development

chart depicting number of library jurisdictions

chart depicting number of participating library sites


chart depicting number of meals served

chart depicting number of snacks served


chart depicting number of snacks and meals served