by Misha Marvel, Child Nutrition Programs Specialist, Hunger Solutions New York
During the school year, the academic learning ‘faucet’ is turned on for all school-aged children thanks to equal access to teachers, books, activities - and nutrition - provided as part of public education.
In the summer months, many librarians are well aware that youth in distressed communities no longer have equal access to most of those resources. Without summer access to educational experiences, research consistently shows kids lose academic ground. Although students lose math and reading skills – regardless of socioeconomic status - children from low-income families lose disproportionately more ground in reading that cumulates over time.1 And when these children and teens lose access to the nutrition school meals provide, they are at the greatest risk of food insecurity and adverse health outcomes during the summer months.2
Across our state, nearly 1.1 million low income children eat healthy school lunches on an average school day; however, less than one-third of these students have access to summer nutrition programs during those months.3 In many upstate communities, far fewer youth have access to these meals. Making sure that all children get access to food in the summer is important to their health and wellbeing.
The good news is that an increasing number of summer learning partners, including libraries, are working together to ‘turn the faucet on’ and prevent summer learning loss for youth in low income communities by bringing learning opportunities and critical meals to kids where they are.4 As trusted and valued community spaces in the heart of many neighborhoods, more libraries are finding that offering spaces to serve food to hungry children makes good sense for their summer programming while aligning with their mission. In fact, most summer child nutrition programs occur in tandem with educational and enrichment programs that keep children learning, engaged, and safe during the summer months.5
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), administered by the US Department of Agriculture and the NYS Education Department, uses federal funds for qualified organizations, including libraries, to serve free, nutritious meals and snacks to kids and teens in areas with significant concentrations of low income youth. These meals can be supplied at little to no cost to the participating libraries; as federal entitlement programs, food and related costs are covered, and volunteers or library employees assist with meal service.
Libraries are also finding that serving lunch and/or snacks is a great opportunity to introduce a variety of families to the library's services and resources during the summer, having the double impact of helping prevent summer learning loss and engaging low-income families in a community space that nourishes creativity and builds skills.
Over the past two summers, libraries serving meals across our state have increased from 36 in 11 counties to 81 in 19 counties. Along with our partners, the New York Library Association and the Summer Reading at New York Libraries Program, our goal for the summer of 2016 is to have 126 libraries serve as sites or partner with an existing site to provide enrichment activities in at least half of our state’s 62 counties.
There are many ways libraries can address summer hunger. To hear from other libraries and learn more, please see this resource: To Be Well Read… You Must Be Well Fed.
For libraries considering offering a summer meal program, questions of funding, staffing, and other logistics may seem like significant obstacles. Fortunately, there are resources available to help meet at least some of those needs. Here are tips and resources libraries have used to get your summer nutrition faucet turned on:
Determine if Young Readers in Your Area Could Benefit from Summer Meals:
- See if your branch location is in an eligible ‘high needs’ area with this Summer Food Mapper
- Compare your location with other community partners and last summer’s summer meals locations, use the layering tools within the USDA’s Capacity Builder Mapper
Share Information – Point People to Summer Meals Sites Using:
- Posters / bookmarks
- Library website (embed a button leading families to SummerMealsNY.org leading up to and throughout the summer to find programs near them)
- Summer reading program flyers
- Social media
- Library website (embed a button in winter/spring leading groups to SummerMealsNY.org)
- Offer your community space for summer planning meetings
- Host enrichment programs at current summer meal sites within your library service area
- Consider how your bookmobile may help transport and/or serve snacks and meals
- Already involved? Share your best practices with your library colleagues
Share Space on your Property to be Used as a Site:
- Connect with a sponsor near you
- Attend spring training provided by sponsor, and follow serving and reporting guidelines
Be a Site that Offers Enrichment Services:
- Offer a meal and/or snack before or after your library programs
- Offer teen volunteer opportunities as job training (often boosts teen programming)
- Collaborate with other agencies for increased services
Other Hunger Solutions:
- Share locations of area farmers’ markets
- Partner with your local Nutrition Outreach and Education Program coordinator to connect eligible library participants of all ages with monthly SNAP benefits.
About Hunger Solutions New York, Inc.:
Hunger Solutions New York is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to alleviating hunger. We promote awareness of hunger in communities across the state, awareness about programs that address hunger, full participation in hunger assistance programs for all who are eligible, public policies that contribute to ending hunger, and public awareness of the economic benefit of anti-hunger programs. For more information, visit www.HungerSolutionsNY.org.
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1Jennifer Sloan McCombs et. al. (2011). Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs can Boost Children’s Learning
2National Summer Learning Association (2012). Healthy Summers for Kids: Turning Risk into Opportunity
3NYS Education Department, 2015 participation data, National School Lunch Program and Summer Food Service Program
4National Summer Learning Association (2015). Accelerating Achievement Through Summer Learning
5Food Research & Action Center (2015). Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report