A small girl hugs a carton of milk to her chest as she walks to her lunch table. A little boy whispers, “I love you” as he gazes down at his lunch. The mother of a teen with disabilities tells library staff she appreciates that her son can eat lunch, no questions asked.
We’ve always known that food brings people together, but we didn’t know that Lunch at the Library would build such a strong bond with our community. And, it’s only been a few weeks since our library began this exciting new program.
Kids up to age 18 munch on daily delectables, feast on books, and eagerly eat up story times in the library. The consumption of lunch and books is perfectly paired with summer reading activities—all of which promote the healthy cycle of borrow-read-return-repeat. Fresh, delicious lunches arrive daily, while volunteers and/or school food service personnel take care of delivery, distribution, and leftover pick-up. Attendance at our library’s Lunch at the Library grows each day, adding to the number of lunches ordered and the number of kids served. The kids eating at our libraries are delighted with their very own tray of treats, often giggling with excitement over their favorites.
Summer lunch programs are popping up in public libraries around the country, and are made possible by partnerships with federal or state hunger organizations, food banks, foundations, and other nonprofit organizations. Our library was invited to participate by Patrice Chamberlain, Director of the California Summer Meal Coalition (CSMC), and Natalie Cole, Associate Executive Director of the California Library Association (CLA), who both co-direct “Lunch at the Library.” “Lunch at the Library” began in 2013and is funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Everything is provided: training, meetings with meal sponsors, evaluation tools to analyze data; resources such as recruiting, working with volunteers, and support for developing programs to complement the service. As a result of CLA and CSMC involvement in expanding Lunch at the Library in California, the program has expanded to nineteen library systems throughout the state.
Similar programs have sprouted up throughout the country. Ypsilanti District Library, Michigan hosts Lunch and Listen; The Public Library of Cincinnati hosts Summer Learning-Summer Lunch; and at St. Louis County Library, Free Lunches at SLCL; Miami-Dade Public Library, Lunch is @ the Library; and Prince their George (Maryland), Meet Up and Eat Up. Public libraries are joining to fill the hunger and reading void that occurs during the summer months with nutrition for both body and brain.
Kristin Sorth, director of St. Louis County Library stated, “Studies show that hunger is a barrier to learning.”1 If hunger is a barrier, then summer lunch programs are breaking down that barrier and encouraging young readers to come inside, be nourished and grow at the public library. The lunch table is a good place for all of us to grow.
To read more about summer lunch at public libraries:
California Library Association, “Lunch at the Library: Program Information,”
California Summer Meal Coalition, http://www.summermealcoalition.org/about-us/
Blythe Bernhard, “Free Summer Lunches provided for children at libraries, other sites,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 4, 2014,
Kimberli Buckley, “Summer Reading Festival 2014: Summer Lunch @ the Library,” Contra Costa County Library, June 2014,
Matt Durr, “Free Summer Lunch Program for Kids being hosted at Ypsilanti District Library,” Ypsilanti News, June 23, 2014,
Jane Henderson, “3 County Libraries to offer Free Lunches for kids,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 27, 2014,
Katy Murphy, “Food for Thought: This Summer Oakland Libraries are serving free lunches to children, five days a week,” San Jose Mercury News, August 3, 2012,
Suburban Life Media, “West Chicago Library, D-33 Team up for Summer Lunch program,” mySuburbanLife.com, June 26, 2014,