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 244,000 summer meals and over 42,500 snacks to children and teens during summer 2018. Meals and snacks were provided at 191 branch and main libraries and bookmobiles.

14% of families surveyed in 2018 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 2018 (infographic)
Click on the infographic link above to see the impact of California’s 2018 public library summer meals programs. The file can be downloaded to help you demonstrate the value of serving summer meals in public libraries.

*Note: Libraries can now access the Infographic template to customize with their local data.  Please click here for more information.

Families

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

  • 92% of people surveyed know they can find books and things to borrow at the library1
  • 67% know they can find people to help them
  • 63% know they can find things to make and play with
  • 67% know they can find information
  • 77% know they can find access to computers
  • 75% 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:

  • 65% report they feel good about themselves
  • 75% 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 lunch program is such a blessing for my family because my kids have something to eat during the summer.” – L@L parent

“I like the library help kids that don’t have food so that makes me very happy. I think I want to do that when I am big. Helping makes me very happy.” – L@L participant

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.

“We formed a new partnership with our local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. The Boys and Girls Club teens offered STEM-themed programming after lunch on Tuesdays…

We thought this program represented an incredibly successful partnership for all parties involved. Library patrons really enjoyed getting to explore STEM topics with the teens, and the Boys and Girls Club teens got valuable practice in developing and leading programs with younger children. Library built a great rapport with Boys and Girls Club teens and staff, and we are hopeful that the program will continue and evolve during the rest of the year (and maybe even visit other branches of our library system!).”

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:

“We had a new family that started to visit the library this summer. We found out, during the lunch program, that they were homeless. This family spent their entire day at the library, so the free lunch was really important for their young nine year old son. He came to every lunch and was very appreciative. He came into the lunch area excitedly the week after our last lunch. There was no lunch for him that day. He was so sad that our library staff provided him with some food and a flyer that listed other lunch locations. We really felt the importance of summer lunch that day.”

“Two years ago there was a teenager who came to our lunch program on a regular basis. Last summer he was a teen volunteer in many of our summer programs including the lunch program. This year he is a part-time library aide and has expressed interest in becoming a Librarian. I definitely believe that the lunch program was the connecting point between him and the library, and, now, quite possibly his future career.”

“At the end of the lunch program, a boy who is about 8-years old brought thank you notes to all the volunteers and District staff to thank them for feeding him and his family for a month. Along with the note he brought candy for each of the volunteers.”

1. 6,341 people in 145 libraries completed surveys in 2018.

Program Development