Public library summer meal programs help ensure that, while school is out, children in the community have continued access to the healthy food and learning opportunities essential to their development.

In 2015, over 100 public libraries in California served over 140,000 summer meals to children and teens during the summer months. 17% of people surveyed in 2015 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, and highlight public libraries as community hubs. The growing number of libraries in California participating as summer meal sites has demonstrated benefits to families, libraries, and the community.

See the impact of Lunch at the Library! Click on the infographic link below to see the impact of California’s public library summer meals programs in 2015. The file can be downloaded to help you demonstrate the value of serving summer meals in public libraries.

Lunch @ the Library 2015 Infographic

Engaging Families

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

  • 89% of people surveyed know they can find books and things to borrow at the library1
  • 65% know they can find people to help them
  • 56% know they can find things to make and play with
  • 65% know they can find information
  • 75% know they can find access to computers
  • 71% know they can take part in the summer reading program.

Families who participate in Lunch at the Library programs also feel healthy, happy, and safe:

  • 62% report they feel good about themselves
  • 57% feel safe
  • 65% 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 wonderful and has been a big help to our family. [We’re] struggling financially – thank you and god bless…” – L@L parent

“Its a great program, it motivates the children to come and check out books…” –L@L parent

Enhancing 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 signing up more than 350 children for summer reading during the lunch service. Another library reported that serving summer meals was a “transformational experience—changing the way people saw what a library can be.”

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

Building Community

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:

I was amazed to see the connections that were made over the summer between parents that came. There were days when one [of the] parents could not make it into the library for the summer meal. With the connections that were made they coordinated among themselves and one of the parents would volunteer to bring the children of the parent that could not make it, ensuring that the children would get a healthy meal that day. It truly was a humbling experience.”– Librarian

For our program participating in its first year, we were happy to see so many families bond with each other and discover the library being a great place to bring their children. One of the surveys we received indicated that [the] family would not know what to do during the summer without the lunch program, because of her current financial situation.”– Library Manager

Our JFK branch has a 10-year-old customer who visits the library with her mother during school holidays and summer break. Her mother is on the library computer for long stretches and doesn’t interact with her daughter. The girl attended the lunch program everyday and really bonded with one of our teen volunteers. We think it made an impact on both of them.”– Librarian

1. In 2015, 4,358 people in 73 libraries completed surveys.