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Insider Article [October 2012] [09/24/12] (Lunch at the Library)
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Lunch at the Library

 Photo: Boy at Main
Photo credit: Jane Tyksa, Bay Area News Group.
 Photo: Girl at Chavez
Photo credit: Jane Tyksa, Bay Area News Group.

Lunch at the Library? Why not? This summer, Oakland Public Library offered free lunch to children and teens at eleven locations, in partnership with the Alameda County Food Bank.

In California last summer, 84 percent of children who received free or subsidized meals during the school year did not participate in a summer lunch program, in part due to the lack of summer school sites. In Alameda County, the rate is slightly lower, but still quite high at 73 percent. So in 2011, the Alameda County Food Bank approached Oakland Public Library about adding library locations to its list of sites where children and teens could get free lunch in Oakland. The first year, four locations piloted the program to great success, and this year the library expanded the service to eleven locations at ten libraries.

It started with a casual conversation. Oakland Public Library Children’s Services Coordinator Nina Lindsay was on a group tour of the Food Bank facility, in Oakland. As Alameda County Food Bank Executive Director and tour guide Suzan Bateson waited for her crowd to catch up, she asked Lindsay about the possibility of serving free lunch at the libraries. Lindsay replied that they lacked the staff to serve, and at most sites, adequate refrigerator space, but that it sounded like a great idea. Bateson said, well, what if we give you refrigerators and bring volunteer servers? OPL branch staff saw the need and were enthusiastic about offering the program.

The program was popular in the local media, with heartwarming coverage in the Oakland Tribune and on CBS Channel 5 News. As the Tribune’s Katy Murphy reported, “Food insecurity is a yearlong issue for struggling families, but it’s often made worse in the summertime, especially as districts cut back on summer programs that serve free meals.”

Implementing free lunch in the libraries has not been without its obstacles. Though volunteers serve and monitor the lunch, library staff still have additional daily tasks ordering and receiving lunches, custodial staff have additional loads, and the already busy libraries are now even busier. But it’s clear that the service is needed, appreciated, and that libraries are natural places for young people to eat healthy lunches. Do children at your library ask you for lunch money during the summer? Do you watch young people spend hours and hours at your library, through the lunch hour, without leaving or eating? Everyone, but kids especially, learn better, have better fun, and get along better with full stomachs.

For additional information, please contact Nina Lindsay, Supervising Children’s Services Librarian, at 510-238-6706 or nlindsay@oaklandlibrary.org.