Hearing about Summer Meals a lot lately? There has been a lot of publicity for this growing program, coming from wide ranging sources.
One article, featured in the New York Times, gave a broad portrayal of how lunch service is working in different libraries across the country. This article, for the Office of Intellectual Freedom blog, takes a different approach and champions the service as an intellectual freedom issue.
My library system (King County Library System) has 13 branches offering some kind of meal service this summer. While most are federally funded, as described in the New York Times article, several (including mine) are being paid for by donations from our KCLS Foundation. We follow similar guidelines (food for everyone 18 and under, must be consumed on site) for the three days per week that we serve lunch.
This is the first year that my branch has served meals in our meeting room. I have learned a lot through the experience. No two days are alike in lunch service any more than two story times are ever identical; it just doesn’t unfold the same way twice. Attendance has varied between 27 and 60 kids, depending on the day, with the average being about 35. To my mind, that’s at least one classroom full of kids, plus their caregivers in many cases. We are seeing some families repeatedly, and we know we are making a difference in their food security.
Our meals are shelf-stable, so we can order in advance and predict an arrival date. Having said that, delivery delays have occurred and sent us scrambling. We also buy juice in individual servings, and napkins. Some community members have taken the opportunity to contribute to the program, either by donating to the Foundation, or by bringing fresh fruit weekly to add to the meals. Others buy individually wrapped snacks (granola bars, popcorn, gummy treats) that we send home with kids over the weekends.
One of the best pieces of early advice I got from a veteran of Summer Meals was to plan to keep up appearances:
- Make sure there are sufficient trash cans in the meeting room to hold the garbage.
- Large recycling bins are also beneficial.
- Many, many disposable wipes are needed for the tabletops, both before and after lunch.
It’s important for us that meal service not wholly monopolize the meeting room throughout the summer: we have a lot of other programming and community use to support as well.
Serving summer meals is a labor-intensive project. Our branch has two librarians jointly coordinating the program, but we aren’t able to both be here every day. Having supportive management and branch staff as well as volunteers have been essential to keeping the program running smoothly. We are grateful to all who have helped us launch this program….and are already talking about various changes we’d like to make for next year…
Jennifer Duffy, Children’s Librarian at the Kingsgate branch of the King County Library System, is writing this post for the Public Awareness Committee. She can be reached at email@example.com.