Lunch at the Library will only be successful if the children and families in the community know that the library is serving meals.
CDE lists all summer meal sites in California on its website. This information is also available through the National Hunger Hotline, a toll-free phone number families can call to locate food assistance (1-866-3 HUNGRY or 1-866-348-6479). This service is also available to Spanish speakers at 1-877-842-6273. Meal sponsors may also conduct outreach to families. The more outreach the better. It is also important to note that library meal sites are required to display information about their lunch service in a manner visible to the public.
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Ideas for Promoting your Program
The most successful Lunch at the Library programs reach out to the community in multiple ways. Successful strategies include:
- Businesses. Provide flyers to local businesses, especially places where people gather, e.g. laundromats, childcare providers.
- Community groups and individuals: Provide information to community leaders including faith leaders, city officials, and other key influencers; extend personal invitations to communities who may be harder to reach; host or participate in a big summer meal kick off event to draw attention to the program; put out lawn signs; offer the opportunity for opt-in text messaging; put flyers in grocery stores; attend resource fairs; promote through food banks and food pantries; reach out to tribal communities; conduct outreach to faith-based organizations; Chamber of Commerce meetings; invite local celebrities to the program; provide information at community festivals, concerts, and other events; provide information for parks and recreation brochures; hand out information at the local Farmers’ Market.
- Homes: Create door hangers promoting the program and hang them on the doors in the neighborhood; visit low income apartments and housing.
- Information services: Get the program included in your local 211 service.
- Library: Consider adding a flyer to a book at check-out time or preparing staff with a “Check-out Script” message for caregiver patrons like: “Just to let you know, our library will start serving free lunches for kids and teens beginning June 15.” Put out flyers promoting the service in the library; hang a banner promoting the program outside the library; during the summer lunch period, when the food is served, make announcements and go around the library letting kids and teens know. Some need a personal invitation to feel comfortable participating; design and put out menus as a way of creating a cafe environment, promoting the program, and letting families know what meals will be served.
- Meal sponsors: Provide information about the library to the meal provider so that they can also promote library events and programs.
- Media: Send press releases to local media; invite them to come and cover the program; contact all free, local newspapers.
- Medical and Social Service Agencies: share information about the Lunch at the Library site with local WIC and social service agencies, legal aid clinics, those providing services to migrant families; visit homeless shelters to let families know about the program; put out flyers and displays in waiting rooms; partner with health and community fairs; provide information at healthy cities meetings.
- Schools: Ask school principals to send flyers and notes home promoting the program before school lets out for summer break; take advantage of district text messages or email blasts; submit information for newsletter and robocalls; place information on school buses; invite the school newspaper to do a story on the program; promote the program with the after school providers.
- Social media: Use Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to engage youth and their families.
- Sports: Partner with sports teams–major, minor, college, and kids’.
- Transit: Use buses and subways to advertise the program.
- Youth organizations: Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, scouting groups
- Create program flyers and calendars (or ask your teen volunteers to create them) and send them to local schools, community partners, and the places frequented by families in the community. Sample flyers from:
- Remember to tailor the message to the audience, e.g. children, parents and caregivers, community leaders.
- To help address any capacity concerns, consider conducting limited publicity efforts during the first few days of the program and increase or decrease efforts as needed.
- Encourage colleagues, leaders, and those working with low-income families to download Range, a mobile application to locate summer meal sites.
- Be sure that staff have a clear understanding of the library’s photo release policy. Also, be sensitive to the language used in disseminating photos, press releases or other communication materials so that the focus is on keeping kids healthy and engaged when school is out (since it is open to all children in the community) rather than language that may be stigmatizing to families with lower-incomes.
Develop a Publicity Strategy
Thoughtful communications can generate community-wide enthusiasm about the lunch program and increase promote the library’s many great programs and services. The tips below, offered by PR & Company, can help you get started.
- Begin by identifying your top three communication priorities. For example, do you want to secure more media coverage, communicate more effectively with stakeholders, make your messaging more effective, etc.?
- Who are the top three audiences you want to communicate with more effectively?
- What are the top three events, activities, or achievements you want to highlight most effectively?
- What are you doing that is new and different?
- Who is responsible for communications? What is one thing you can do once a week, as a team, to advance your three communication priorities?
Engaging Your Stakeholders
- Brainstorm the individuals you’d like to engage with your library meals program and build relationships with this summer.
- For each person, identify the most relevant activities or events to invite them to engage them with. Think about what they would likely find most appealing about your program.
- Make the ask: invite them to participate and frame the invitation according to their interests.
- Make their participation worth their while: prepare compelling information to share with each person, plan for them to observe or experience a program or activity, and remember to write a thank you note!
- Create a list of talking points to bring up when talking with your stakeholders. Ensure that your talking points are tailored to each person’s interests and relationship with the library.
- Share your successes: let stakeholders know about what you’re achieving this summer; tell engaging stories using photos as well as words and numbers; and let stakeholders know about the media coverage you’re receiving.
Suggestions for Raising Awareness of Your Program
- Send out press releases, and ensure that the information you provide is engaging, catchy, brief, and includes one or two good quotes that journalists can use.
- Send out pitches to newspapers, radio, tv, and blogs. Make sure your pitch is short, succinct, and includes a newsworthy hook.
- Create a library meals blog or include library meals entries in a more general library blog. Plan some blogging topics ahead of time so you always have something to write about and remembers to share engaging stories and photos from the summer.
- Twitter and Facebook also provide opportunities to share the highlights from your program and provide real-time information about lunchtime programming (or even popular menu items).
Sharing Media Coverage
- Once you start getting media coverage, post links to the stories on your website, blog, Facebook page, on twitter.
“The promotion and publicity was great. We had a wonderful response from the media; we were highlighted in various news outlets, both in print and on tv. The media promotion helped draw people to the program and create an understanding of why we were offering a lunch program.”
Create a Buzz about Your Program: Consider a Kick-Off Event
A flyer at the checkout desk alone isn’t enough to raise awareness in the community about your program. Besides, only families already coming in to the library will see it. Kick-off (or even mid-summer) events can be a great way to attract new families and start and strengthen partnerships with other agencies. Events can be done with very little planning and without additional resources, and they can be done in the beginning or even in the middle of summer.
Events are a great way to get the community excited about the start of summer and generate media coverage. Many libraries have found that kick-off events have strengthened relationships, raised awareness among other city and county departments, and sparked year-round collaboration.
Events are a great venue for locally-elected officials to engage with community members in an informal, fun setting. San Jose Public Library’s kick-off events have raised awareness of its Lunch at the Library program, thanks to the added visibility brought by the mayor. Fresno County Public Library’s kick-off events bring together more than 20 community partners! Check out our How to Build a Lunch at the Library Kick-Off handout for ideas.