Summer Lunch at the Library will only be successful if the children and families in your community know about the program. 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. Your meal provider may also conduct outreach to families and more outreach is 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.

Outreach Materials

Many families have not heard of summer meals, reinforcing the need for effective outreach materials. Our “3 Ways to Find Summer Meals” flyer (English/Spanish) can be shared with families to help them find sites easily throughout the community. Information contained through these access points is continually updated as new meal sites are added. Additional summer meal outreach materials are available for download on the USDA website.

The following Lunch at the Library-specific outreach templates can be customized your library, whether you have one library or multiple branches.

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 draw new families to your library while starting and strengthening 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 the middle of summer. Some libraries, like Contra Costa County Library host a Back-to-School event to promote library services during the school year.

Events are a great way to get the community excited about summer’s start and generate media coverage too. Many libraries have found that kick-off events have helped strengthen relationships and raise awareness among other city and county departments and sparked year-round collaboration. Events are a great venue to help locally elected officials engage with community members in a more informal, fun setting. San Jose Public Library’s kick-off events have significantly helped raise awareness of its Lunch at the Library program, thanks to the added visibility brought by its 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 Event handout for ideas.

Raising Awareness is an Ongoing Process!

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.” The most successful Lunch at the Library programs also incorporate a range of channels to let the community know about the program.

  • 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: 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 your 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 your 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 your community. Sample flyers from:

Glen Avon Regional Library, Riverside County Library System: Glen Avon flyer 2016
Fresno County Public Library: Fresno flyer 2013
Sacramento Public Library: and Sacramento flyer 2013

  • Remember to tailor your message depending on who you want to reach, e.g. children, parents and caregivers, community leaders.
  • Also, if you’re concerned about being overwhelmed by too many participants in your first year, you could conduct very limited publicity efforts until you find out what the demand will be.
  • Encourage colleagues, leaders, and those working with low-income families to download Range, a mobile application to locate summer meal sites.
  • Don’t Forget! Be sure that staff have a clear understanding of your 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 lower-income families.

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.”