Determining eligibility and community need
Because summer meal programs are designed to serve areas with high populations of economically disadvantaged children, you should begin by looking to see if your library is located in an eligible area. Your branch staff may know anecdotally that the library is serving a low-income neighborhood but in order to participate as a summer meal site, this belief must be substantiated. There are a number of ways to do this using the resources below. Your local meal sponsor can also help identify which branches may be best suited to serve as meal sites:
- The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) / FairData Summer Food Mapper provides census data to assess eligibility.
- Contact your local school district food services department director and ask.
- USDA’s Capacity Builder Tool uses geomapping to assess the landscape in your community. A range of filters helps provide additional information about the neighborhood and can help you find out if your library is eligible to become a summer meal site.
- Contact the state administering agency.
Site eligibility can be determined in a number of ways, which you can learn about here (pp 14-18). Typically, it is determined using local school data or census data, stipulating that sites are eligible if at least 50 percent of children in the area are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRP). In 2014, USDA announced additional flexibility in using census data to meet the 50 percent threshold to ensure that communities in need are adequately covered.
Libraries typically operate as “open” sites in contrast to an enrolled summer program, which may operate as a “closed enrolled” site. If security or space becomes a concern once the meal program has started, libraries may discuss the option of becoming a “restricted open site” with their sponsor.
Determining library capacity
Once you have identified that your library is located in an eligible neighborhood, consider whether you have the space and staffing resources to take on this effort. Summer can be one of the busiest times of the year, and careful assessment and planning regarding capacity and needs can ensure the program’s success.
Libraries are successfully providing summer meal programs in spaces that range from community rooms with kitchens attached, to out in the library among the stacks. The program can be offered in very small spaces, but you must determine whether your library can successfully implement the program in the space you have available.
When having conversations about library capacity, be sure to include all relevant staff members to ensure that all voices are heard and a variety of perspectives are considered.
Although we encourage libraries to provide programming in conjunction with the meal service, you may want to consider introducing programming in your second or third year, once staff and volunteers are comfortable with serving meals. You might also consider serving meals just a few days a week during your first year to help staff and volunteers transition to this new service.
Much of the work related to the meal service can be handled by volunteers so determining capacity need not be focused solely on staff. If, however, becoming a summer meal site does not seem feasible for this summer, consider connecting with a local summer meal provider to support other summer meal sites until your library is more prepared.