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Insider Article [January 2014] [1/7/14] (Report on Funded Projects: Summer Lunch at the Library)
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Report on Funded Projects: Summer Lunch at the Library

Sacramento Public Library Summer Meals Program
Fresno Central Library Summer Lunch Program

In 2013, CLA partnered with the California Summer Meal Coalition (CSMC) to develop Summer Lunch at the Library, a program designed to keep California’s kids healthy, fed, and engaged when school is out. The program creates partnerships between libraries and meal sponsors and provides children with free meals and literacy activities in the library during the summer months.

In 2013, CLA and CSMC facilitated partnerships between:

  • Fresno County Public Library (Central Library) and the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission
  • Los Angeles Public Library (Central Library and Pacoima Branch Library) and the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank
  • Sacramento Public Library (Valley Hi-North Laguna Branch Library) and the Elk Grove Unified School District
  • San Diego County Library (Lincoln Acres and Vista Branch Libraries) and Feeding America San Diego.

The project is modeled on the successful partnership between Oakland Public Library, the City of Oakland, and Alameda County Food Bank, which serves lunches to children in Oakland’s libraries during the summer. Similar programs are also taking place in Chula Vista, San Francisco, Tulare County, and other libraries.

The Summer Lunch at the Library sites served 13,348 lunches and 432 snacks this year, and the Oakland partnership (which now offers lunches in multiple library branches) served 8,524 lunches—an increase of approximately 1,000 from the previous year. As well as eating a healthy lunch, children and their families also took part in enrichment programs that ranged from storytelling, writing workshops, and nutrition classes, to gardening activities, soccer games, and ping pong.

Lunch at the Library sites reported seeing an increase in summer reading sign-ups and library card issues during the project period. Library staff saw new families in the library and observed that many library regulars stopped exhibiting signs of hunger. At many sites, the program developed into a meaningful teen development program during which teen volunteers developed workforce readiness skills. Children and parents said:

  • “The lunch program was great. We spent more time at the library and learned about all the services due to the lunch program.”
  • “Thank you. Your food was great. Better than my mom’s food.”
  • “I feel like I am in my happy place.”
  • “I would like to thank everyone for helping me learn to read, eat, and feel safe.”
  • “It’s just nice to be apart of a program that all-around cares :-)”

For many children in low-income communities, the stability and nutrition offered by the lunches they get at school ends when school lets out for summer vacation. Summer meal programs help combat childhood hunger and obesity when school is out by providing free, healthy meals to children in low-income neighborhoods. Libraries are natural spaces for serving meals to children whose access to lunch disappears when school ends and summer begins. Libraries are community spaces in the heart of the neighborhood. They welcome all and they provide access, free of charge, to resources that support the community’s lifelong needs.

CLA and CSMC are producing a Resource Guide to help libraries implement successful Lunch at the Library programs and we hope to help additional libraries develop summer meal programs in 2014. Full information is available on the CLA website.

Summer Lunch at the Library is funded by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Natalie Cole
CLA Associate Executive Director