Public library summer meal programs help ensure that children and teens have continued access to healthy food and learning opportunities while school is out.

California public libraries served over 228,500 summer meals and over 22,500 snacks to children and teens during summer 2017. Meals and snacks were provided at 159 branch, main libraries and bookmobiles, and five partnering community sites.

18% of families surveyed in 2017 reported that they don’t get lunch anywhere else but the library during the summer.1

In addition to providing nourishment and learning opportunities for children and teens, Lunch at the Library programs facilitate greater collaboration between local agencies, highlight public libraries as community hubs, and benefit families, libraries, and the community.

See the impact of Lunch at the Library 2017 (infographic)
Click on the infographic link to see the impact of California’s 2017 public library summer meals programs. The file can be downloaded to help you demonstrate the value of serving summer meals in public libraries.

Families

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

  • 90% of people surveyed know they can find books and things to borrow at the library1
  • 64% know they can find people to help them
  • 60% know they can find things to make and play with
  • 66% know they can find information
  • 75% know they can find access to computers
  • 70% know they can take part in the summer reading program.

Families who participate in Lunch at the Library programs also report that they feel good at the library:

  • 64% report they feel good about themselves
  • 72% feel happy

Library summer meal programs have also helped:

  • 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 safe and 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.

“The program is a blessing to our family. Our kids have days fill of fun filled activities and a healthy lunch instead of having to stay home all summer due to finances.” – L@L parent

“i think that the lunch program is doing an outstanding job helping kids get healthy lunches and that the library helps kids learn how to get to read books!” –L@L parent

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.

One library reported serving 300 lunches, passing out school supplies and making available a variety of local services for families during their back to school BBQ lunch service. Another library reported that serving summer meals “was truly wonderful – being able to see patrons and provide for them in a way that they never expected.”

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

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.

“I believe that the public sees a better-working City when they see different organizations and departments working together on the same service.  There’s something very powerful in that unified voice.  And the public sees us differently: we see people we haven’t seen before, and you can see they feel welcomed from the moment they walk in because they know we have lunch for them.” – Children’s Services Librarian

The program encourages and enables community members to come together around food, and make friends and connections with other families, volunteers, and library staff. For example, librarians told us:

“A parent with 3 children who had just moved… happened to come in to our program. They did not know much about the area and felt a little isolated.  After that first time they came to the program every day.  The mom said she felt very welcomed by the friendly staff and that the programmed helped her feel more comfortable in this new place.  Her children as well as her made new friends in the program and began planning play dates.  She said the program helped her feel like she was becoming part of the community.”  – Library Assistant

“One particular conversation that I had with a young girl…  [Her] whole family came regularly.  One day she was sharing how happy she was that the library had started offering a lunch program during the summer.  I rhetorically asked her if she had ever thought about how many lunches we will eat in our lifetime, at 365 lunches per day that would be 3,650 lunches by the time she was 10 years old.  She said something like, ‘Oh, we don’t have lunch everyday.  Before the library started doing the lunch program we would eat breakfast and then not have anything else to eat until dinner.’  She said it so casually and so matter-of-factly that I didn’t make a big deal about it, instead I just let her know how happy we were that her and her family came to our program.  But it is a big deal – families like that are why we do the lunch program.” – Librarian

“I will also say after lining up volunteers to help serve, I did get a little nervous when numbers started to dwindle toward the end. However, on one of the slower days a pregnant mom with a 2 year old and a 4 year old and the new baby due in 4 days said to me ‘thank you, this is so helpful my husband is in basic training and we’re alone here—I don’t mean to cry and get emotional but this is just such a huge help for us—’ and at that moment I could care less if we had 400 lunches to prove we made an impact, those 4 lunches were the best I gave out. – Library Manager

1. 5,390 people in 115 libraries completed surveys in 2017.

Program Development