Eligibility and Finding a Meal Sponsor

Every summer meal site must qualify to participate using either school or census data. To qualify using school data, the library site must be in the attendance area of an elementary, middle or high school where at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch Program. To qualify using census data, the site must be within a Census Block Group in which at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. To obtain eligibility information, reach out to:

A summer meal sponsor provides the meals at summer meal sites and acts as the program’s fiscal and administrative agent. To find a meal sponsor, reach out to:

  • A Lunch at the Library project staff member
  • Your local school district’s child nutrition department
  • The California Department of Education’s Summer Meal Sponsor/Site Map

For more detailed information on finding and working with a meal sponsor, visit the Finding and Working with a Meal Sponsor page.

Library Capacity

Once it’s been confirmed that the library is in an eligible neighborhood, carry out a careful assessment of the library’s capacity and the community’s needs. Be sure to include all relevant staff members, hear all voices, and consider a variety of perspectives. Much of the work related to the meal service can be handled by volunteers so do not focus solely on staff when determining capacity.

Finding the Best Space for Lunch in Your Library

Some libraries offer the lunch in the community room, others host it outside, or even in the middle of the branch. The space should be easily accessible by foot, stroller, or wheelchair. Ideally, it will be part of a fluid visit to the library and easy to find. The best location for the meal service will always depend on the individual library’s circumstances.

Community outreach efforts will influence participation rates and should be coordinated according to the library’s space. In the rare event that demand outpaces room capacity, library staff can work with the meal sponsor to find solutions, such as expanding the meal service period to allow for staggered service. The meal must be consumed on-site so it is important to choose a space that can be monitored by staff or volunteers.

“If anyone is concerned about space, we hosted this program in our physically smallest library branch of approx. 640 sq. ft. so if we can do it, anyone can. The crowd basically came in waves of about 8-10 at a time and regulated themselves.” – Imperial County Free Library

The First Year

In the first year, some libraries choose to serve meals just a few days a week to help staff and volunteers transition to the new service. Also, although we encourage libraries to provide programming in conjunction with the meal service, it can be prudent to introduce new programming in the second or third year of the meal service when staff and volunteers are comfortable serving meals. However much programming you provide, it’s always a good idea to provide access to books and self-directed activities near the meal service.

Pop-Up Library Programming

If it’s not feasible to become a summer meal site, consider providing pop-up library programming at nearby summer meal sites as another way to address hunger in the community.