Lunch at the library in San Jose, CA.
August 30, 2015
by Emily Basten

Libraries are louder than they used to be! This month, I walked into a library in Redwood City, California and couldn’t help but be taken aback by how much fun kids were having with their friends and families. Playing games, doing crafts, checking out books or movies and more. This summer, in libraries across the Northern California Bay Area, kids and their parents came to their local library for free or low-cost camps or programs, and stayed for the food—enjoying the much needed meal as a family and interacting with neighbors.

Every summer, nearly 18 million children nationwide lose access to the free and reduced-price school meals that they receive during the school year, resulting in a major gap for families struggling with food insecurity. To address the summer spike in hunger, the Feeding America network food banks, their community partners, government agencies and millions of volunteers work hard to meet the increased need that results from school being out.

Fortunately, food banks like Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties are always developing innovative ways to provide more nutritious meals to children during the summer months. For the first time this summer—realizing that local libraries are a summer hot spot for families—the food bank decided to leverage their Hunger Free Summer grant from the ConAgra Foods Foundation to form partnerships and cover the cost of adult meals at library operated Summer Food Service (SFSP) sites. This innovation enabled more local low-income children and their families to receive a healthy nutritious meal during a time when they likely needed it most.

Feeding America network food banks and other community partners are fortunate to be able to leverage SFSP across the nation to help kids receive a healthy nutritious meal over the summer. The magic behind this particular program – “Lunch at the Library” – was that adults were empowered to eat with their kids. Due to this simple fact, more parents felt comfortable brining their kids to the program, so more kids were fed. Because the meal was offered in their community, many families walked together to the library, which meant families were getting some exercise and talking together as they walked. Because kids sat with their parents at the library table, they knew how to eat their foods and spent time talking with their families, neighbors or peers. Research shows that many low-income families have less opportunities to enjoy a meal together. We know that meal time means talk time for young children who are developing their language skills. Lastly, the educational programing at the library served to help reduce the “summer slide” that many kids experience when the don’t have access to educational content over the summer—the fact that their stomachs were full while they participated in the programing only helped to ensure they were able to absorb the information and fully participate.

Lunch at the Library in the Northern California Bay Area this summer was the result of an incredible collaboration between the food bank, local libraries, the local Y and pediatric researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine. With aligned interests to help stabilize the lives of families with children in their community, the partners came together in the most inspiring way. The food bank provided the food for snacks and funds to reimburse adult meals, in order to reduce child hunger during the summer. The libraries provided the space, programs that bring in members of the community and staff and volunteers to execute the meal, in order to reduce summer learning loss. The Y provided the program structure and holds the SFSP contract to foster healthy communities. Lastly, the research team is working to demonstrate that meals over the summer are critical and might ultimately enable the group to make a case to expand this powerful collaboration.

Visit your local food bank to see what partnerships exist in your community or to find opportunities for you to help solve hunger.

Emily Basten, manager of program development at Feeding America*Emily Basten manages program and resource development at Feeding America. In her role she works with funders, nonprofit partners and food bank staff from across the country to advance the strategies of the organization to solve domestic hunger. Currently earning her MBA at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, Emily is concentrating in innovation and social enterprise.

Tags: Child Hunger , California , Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara & San Mateo Counties

Stay Informed

Get email updates about what we're doing to help solve hunger and how you can help.