Special Blog Post By: Sue Kim, VISTA Coordinator of School Breakfast & Out-of-School Time Meals
“Summer Meals Spotlight” is a short series that highlights the work of community partners providing free, nutritious meals to kids and teens in the summer.
Recognizing that education and nourishment go hand in hand, the Santa Clara County Library District (SCCLD) provides free nutritious meals for all children under 18 as part of its new “Lunch and Learn” program this summer.
Public library summer meal programs, or “Lunch at the Library” as they’re commonly referred to, help combat hunger and prevent summer learning loss by pairing nutritious meals with engaging enrichment activities. A recent study conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine noted that public libraries are ideal locations for community-based meal programs due to their reputation as trusted community hubs.
SCCLD offers summer meals at three South County locations: Morgan Hill Library (6/12-8/11), Gilroy Library (6/19-7/28) and the SCCLD Bookmobile at the San Martin Lions Club (6/20-8/10). By providing meals in a safe and positive environment with access to resources and educational activities, SCCLD hopes to make a lasting impact on the summer learning experiences of local children.
We spoke with Jennifer Weeks, Library Services Manager, to learn more about the Lunch and Learn program in South County.
How did SCCLD get involved with the summer meal program?
Libraries are safe spaces for children, so we had an opportunity, as an informal learning center, to offer this kind of program. In my role, I try to work with different community collaborators and when I found out how much money was not being utilized for child nutrition programs, it was shocking to me! I was truly embarrassed that we had all this federal money going unused for the children of our community. Our goal in Children’s Services is to always help the children thrive, so whatever we can do, we’ll do it.
How did you identify the need for summer meals in South County?
By working with Second Harvest and the YMCA of Silicon Valley, we identified areas in South County where 50 percent or more of the children qualify for free and reduced price lunch.
For example, San Martin is a high-need area, but there were no local meal sites available. Taking that need, we worked with the Lions Club in San Martin to use their space and have the Bookmobile come.
The lunch is served two days during the week, so it’s more of a destination. It’s been really fun to see the Bookmobile do that, bringing people in from the community. We’ve been very happy about bringing people together into that space because it’s more of an isolated community.
Given the needs in South County, having all sites be open to the public has been great because each site acts as a completely safe space. There are no requirements for the program. You do not have to sign up, which families really appreciate in all three areas.
What was it like launching the program?
There was a lot of planning, preparation and training. Luckily, other libraries have done it before us. There was a workshop we went to where we got to talk with other libraries about their suggestions and how they run their program. We got ready as much as we could, but there’s just a lot you learn when it actually happens.
With three locations, I started on broad levels in terms of relationships with Second Harvest and the YMCA of Silicon Valley. Our librarians were then able to say specific to their communities, “this is my space, what’s it going to look like?” For them, it was also about piecing together the how-to’s of staffing. It has been a huge plus that our librarians are so excited to offer these kinds of programs.
What types of activities and programs are offered alongside summer meals?
It depends on the day; there’s always something going on during the lunch. For example, Thursdays and Fridays we have story time right before lunch.
It’s the library, so there’s puppet shows, art programs, magicians, giant outdoor games. And of course we encourage kids to read and sign up for the summer reading program!
There are also different community groups that provide resources and services. Community Solutions is a group that has been coming on a regular basis to be here on hand and connect people with different services they might need, whether it’s counseling or parenting classes. Healthier Kids Foundation also comes once a week to provide free or low-cost healthcare for kids. The Santa Clara Valley Water District does puppet shows, and Potter the Otter from FIRST 5 has come out to a couple of our sites.
What makes the library a unique place to have summer meals at?
People started looking at the libraries as a place to serve summer meals because it’s open to all, it’s free, and there’s usually programming. Being at the library, it removes the stigma of receiving a free meal. For us, it’s really about access. Any barriers we can remove in terms of getting resources – whether it’s a nutritious meal, parenting classes or crafts for kids to build fine motor skills – all of these things wrap into the library’s role as a safe place.
Part of our goal in public libraries is to educate people about all the resources we offer. There are things people don’t realize they can get at the library, so we act as connectors, inviting folks to come and have a full experience of nourishing their children.
The summer is a unique opportunity for the library to bring people together. When schools wind down for the summer, libraries wind up. We’re kind of taking the baton and asking, what are we doing to keep kids engaged during the summer? It’s not a question anymore of, they can take three months off and never do a math problem. We know that experiential learning is absolutely necessary for them during this three-month period and that it will help them be successful, so what tools can we give them? We really see summer as our space to do that.