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Lunch at the Library: Planning, Logistics, and Regulations
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Planning, Logistics, and Meal Service Regulations

Getting Started

  • Before you begin planning for your library to become a summer meal site, you should seek out a summer meal sponsor who will act as the fiscal and administrative agent for your program. The best places to start are:
  • Because the program is designed to serve children in low-income areas, your sponsor will work with you to determine whether your library is eligible. Each site must be qualified using school or census data. To qualify using school data, the library site must be located in the attendance area of an elementary, middle or high school in which at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch Program. To qualify using census data, the site must be located within a Census Block Group in which at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. To obtain eligibility information, contact:
    • Your local school district’s child nutrition department
    • California Department of Education (CDE)’s Summer Food Service Unit (800-952-5609)
  • Begin working with your meal service partner early so that you are aware of the procedures and regulations you will need to follow and have plenty of time to plan for this. Different meal sponsors have different methods of working and what you hear from a colleague about their meal sponsor may not apply to your situation.
  • Talk with colleagues about the program early and often so that they feel invested in the program and can contribute to its development. Listen to them and acknowledge and validate their concerns. Let people know that the day to day lunch operations can be melded successfully with other day-to-day library duties. Acknowledge that the program will bring more work but that the work is manageable and worthwhile.
  • Keep the benefits and value of this program at the forefront, reminding everyone that the program is about serving the community in an holistic way, creating a summer safety net, and feeding both stomachs and minds.
  • Involve all relevant staff in planning meetings, including volunteer coordinators, facilities and custodial staff, and staff at the branches where the program will take place.
  • Reliable, responsible, and well-trained volunteers are essential to the success of the program. See our volunteer section for information on finding, training, and working with volunteers.
  • Plan to use the summer meal program as an opportunity to publicize library services.

Operations and Site Responsibilities

  • Your sponsor is required to provide training to summer meal site staff. The sponsor will provide greater detail about USDA/CDE regulations in addition to local health department requirements. In general, as a summer meal site, you will be responsible for:
    • Providing a supervised and safe environment for the children.
    • Following food handling and safety guidelines outlined by your sponsor.
    • Maintaining accurate records of meals served, extra meals, food temperatures, etc. and making sure to provide that information to the sponsor each week or other agreed upon time.
    • Food ordering – letting your sponsor know how many meals you will need
    • Communicating with your sponsor as issues arise.
    • Making sure that signage is posted in a visible location outside the library to let the public know about the program.
    • Making sure site rules are posted.
    • Making sure that staff and volunteers understand and adhere to USDA’s non-discrimination policy.
  • Make sure that primary staff person or volunteer has a back-up so there is redundancy in the event that the primary contact is absent. Make sure that the secondary contact is sufficiently trained on procedures and that information is stored in a centralized location. It may be a good idea to keep a central binder that includes materials such as:
    • USDA rules and regulations (provided by the sponsor)
    • Sponsor contact information
    • Procedures for food delivery, handling, and serving
    • Volunteer and other library staff contact information (as appropriate)
    • Emergency/safety procedures
    • Notes – a place to share reminders, supply needs, etc.
    • Protocol for talking to media or other issues that may require involvement of library leadership.
  • Be sure to plan for staff and volunteers to attend your meal sponsor’s training sessions. Sign up early to secure your spaces.
  • The meal program will bring extra trash to the library so be sure to arrange for more garbage containers and a staging place for clean-up.
  • Meals might be served in an open space in the library or in a separate room. If you’re planning to serve meals in the library’s meeting room, remember to book it well ahead of time. Consider who will be coming into the room after you each day and be sure you allot enough time to clean up before they come in.
  • Discuss with your meal sponsor what items you need to have on hand (e.g., a refrigerator, serving implements, cleaning items) and what they will provide. Different sponsors have different requirements and provide different items.
  • Meals are very rarely delivered late, but be sure that staff and volunteers know what to do and who to call if the meals don’t turn up on time. You don’t want to have a number of hungry patrons in the library and no food to serve them. Have a back-up plan for engaging families with programs (either active or passive) if the meal is late.
  • If you are not permitted to save meals that are on eaten on the day of delivery, work with your meal sponsors to see whether you may donate this food.
  • If your sponsor allows second meals to be served, make sure that each child has received a first meal. Be sure to talk to your sponsor about how to record second meals.
  • Staff may need to periodically remind parents/caregivers that the program only permits children to eat the meals. In addition to posting the required site rules, it may be helpful to make a general announcement that, in addition to other information, includes a reminder to parents/caregivers that only children may consume the meals. A general announcement avoids targeting individuals and weekly announcements can help reinforce the rule. Some ways to support the understanding around this delicate issue include:
    • Building messaging in outreach materials that invites parents to bring their own lunch but kids eat for free.
    • Working with sponsor to find a local business to underwrite the cost of adult meals (adults will be given a ticket and those meals will be recorded separately).
    • Working with sponsor to provide a list of local food pantries or other resources.
    • Securing produce donations from the local grocery store, food bank or other organization for adults to bring home.
    • Giving out cards, to everyone, that list sources of food for those over 18.

Communications and Outreach

It is likely that your local media may want to talk to you about this program. Be ready to talk to them with information and facts at your fingertips. Nominate one person to be your media spokesperson so that your message is consistent and let other staff and volunteers know to refer journalists to this person.

Questions to Ask Your Sponsor

  • Who needs to attend the site training? Is it possible to host the training at the library if necessary?
  • What supplies will be provided by the sponsor (e.g., cleaning, food storage or serving tools)?
  • Is a food handling certification required?
  • What is the procedure for dealing with leftovers?
  • Will there be a “share” table (i.e., a table to place untouched items)?
  • Who will inspect my site and what can I expect from a site visit?
  • Will parents/caregivers be able to purchase meals? 


Lunch at the Library is a project of the California Library Association and California Summer Meal Coalition and is funded by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.


Photo: Palm Springs USD.