Summer should be a carefree time for kids, but for many children, the warmer months are a difficult time—when they don’t get enough to eat.
Beyond the impact on children’s health, heightened “food insecurity” during the summer can widen the learning gap, according to a May 2012 report by the National Summer Learning Association. While federal funds provide 21 million children with free or reduced price lunch during the school year—only one in six of those kids access available summer meals, reports the Campaign to End Childhood Hunger.
Summer meal programs are critical and public libraries are uniquely suited to host them because kids are already there, says Megan Tribendis, Food 4 Kids program manager for the Commission on Economic Opportunity based in Wilkes-Barre, serving northeastern Pennsylvannia. Food 4 Kids operates year-round through the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). During the school year, Food 4 Kids has partnered with three libraries, which serve meals after school. During the summer, Food 4 Kids works with 10 area libraries—including Hoyt, Mill and Scranton Children’s libraries—where snack and lunch are served Monday through Friday. “Libraries offer programing for children so they are already coming on a daily or weekly basis. If the staff just extends the programming for an extra half to one hour, the children can eat a healthy meal,” she says. Providing just a single meal can help many families on a tight food budget.
Range, an app to address youth hunger
Built in response to the low number of kids who access free summer meals is Range, a mobile app. Created with support from Microsoft Corporate Citizenship, Range can be downloaded by anyone with a smartphone (Windows, Android, and iOS) to find where and when summer meals are served nationwide.
Launched in April 2014, Range is now loading the summer lunch sites, which started to become available last month via WhyHunger, says Marnie Webb, spokesperson for Caravan Studios, the creator of Range and a division of TechSoup Global.
“Right now, Range has over 35,000 summer meal sites. It looks like 496 are of them are libraries,” she says. And they hope to add more. (You can view the library sites via the data map.)
“While anyone can use Range, we are concentrating our outreach on trusted community messengers, particularly librarians and those who work for faith-based organizations,” says Webb. Oakland (CA) Public Library staff participated in the initial user testing for Range.
“We are very much looking to connect with libraries. We believe that librarians are critical first referrers to information and community resources. By making it as easy as possible for librarians to share information about summer meals, we believe we can dramatically increase community awareness of the program and the number of youth who access the meals.”
How libraries can help:
- Host a summer meal program. Libraries who are interested in setting up a summer meal location should contact their state agency (which administer federal funds for meal programs). They can also consult other libraries that have offered meals; “there are lots of discussion on library listservs.” says Webb. The USDA also provides information on how to get a meal program started. Beyond offering meals at their sites, like the Pueblo County (NM) Library District does, libraries can bring materials to food programs via bookmobiles, suggests Webb.
- Provide patrons with information about locating a meal. Distribute flyers identifying resources, such as Range or No Kid Hungry’s text messaging service (Try it out—text FOOD to 877-877 to find a site near you). And there’s a printable poster. Libraries can bookmark maps of food sites on their public access computers or share the Hunger Hotline phone number (1-866-3HUNGRY). Librarians can provide referrals to nearby sites, using Range.
Oakland Public Library began serving summer meals in 2011 at two branches in east Oakland. “Now, we’re [running meal programs] in more than a dozen branches, says Susan Maldonado, a teen services librarian at Oakland. “Our role is more and more to serve as community centers.” While outside of traditional library services, providing food to hungry citizens is “another way we can serve the community,” she says.
If a library is interested in participating in a meal program, says Tribendis, they need to find out if they are eligible and find a sponsor in their area that they can order meals from. The following links provide helpful information for getting started.
Photo at top: School lunch is served at Harmony Hills Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture.