New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Combatting Learning Slide with Summer Meals

Submitted by Krista Hesdorfer, Hunger Solutions New York Child Nutrition Programs Specialist

127 libraries in 32 counties across New York State nourished their community’s children with summer meals in 2018. Learn how your library can get involved.

More than 1.1 million New York State students rely on healthy school meals to fuel their learning; however, when school is out over the summer months, many low-income children lose access to the academic and nutritional supports they need to thrive. In 2017, fewer than one-third of NY’s low-income students had access to USDA summer nutrition programs.  This nutritional gap contributes to summer learning loss – or summer slide – which may disproportionately affect children from low-income households, exacerbating socioeconomic disparities in reading and math.  

As librarians are well aware, summer reading and enrichment programs are proven resources for mitigating summer learning loss.  Combining summer reading and summer learning with quality nutrition adds value to programming, providing the fuel kids need to focus and engage in enrichment activities. As an added benefit, offering snacks or meals can attract more children and families to library resources and activities. Librarian Ashley Pickett from Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library in Watertown, NY explains, “It seems at least half of the kids who come for summer meals had never used the library before. I never would have imagined that we could reach so many families just by offering them a yummy, nutritious, free lunch.”

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; federal and state reimbursement covers food and related costs, and volunteers or library employees assist with meal service. Libraries can serve snacks or meals one day a week, every day, or anywhere in between, depending on the needs and capacity of the library and their summer meals sponsor.

In 2018, 127 libraries in 32 counties across the state nourished their community’s children with summer meals, a tremendous increase from 36 libraries in 11 counties serving summer meals just four years prior in 2014. Additionally, in a recent survey of NYS summer meals sponsors, almost one-third of all respondents reported partnering with libraries in some way in 2018, whether for outreach or programming or as summer meals sites, and 48 sponsors expressed interest in partnering with libraries in 2019.  

In continued partnership with the New York Library Association and the Summer Reading at New York Libraries Program, we hope to equip even more libraries in more counties to get involved with summer meals in 2019 and beyond. There are many meaningful ways libraries can address summer hunger, whether by helping with outreach for local summer meals sites, partnering to bring programming to sites, or serving meals or snacks at the library. To hear from other libraries and learn more, view this NYLA sponsored webinar and To Be Well Read, You Must Be Well Fed flyer, and explore these tips and tools other libraries have used to get started:

Determine if Young Readers in Your Area Could Benefit from Summer Meals:

  1. See if your branch location is in an eligible “high needs” area with this Summer Food Mapper
  2. Compare your location with other community partners and last summer’s summer meals locations using the layering tools within the USDA’s Capacity Builder Mapper

Share Information – Point People to Summer Meals Sites Using:

  1. Flyers, rack cards, and/or bookmarks
  2. Library website (embed a button leading families to leading up to and throughout the summer to find programs near them)
  3. Summer reading program flyers
  4. Social media

Encourage Communities to Participate or Collaborate:

  1. Embed a button on your library website in winter/spring leading community groups to
  2. Offer your community space for summer planning meetings
  3. Host enrichment programs at current summer meal sites within your library service area
  4. Consider how your bookmobile may help transport and/or serve snacks and meals
  5. Already involved? Share your best practices with your library colleagues

Share Space on your Property to be Used as a Site:

  1. Connect with a sponsor near you
  2. Attend spring training provided by a sponsor, and follow serving and reporting guidelines

Be a Site that Offers Enrichment Services:

  1. Offer a meal and/or snack before or after your library programs
  2. Offer teen volunteer opportunities as job training (often boosts teen programming)
  3. Collaborate with other agencies for increased services

Other Hunger Solutions:

  1. Partner with your local WIC Help NY Specialist to connect eligible moms, moms-to-be, and children under age 5 with healthy food, nutrition advice, breastfeeding support, and referrals to other services.
  2. If your library offers structured afterschool enrichment programming, consider offering free, healthy snacks or meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Contact us to learn more.
  3. Connect families with information about school meals.
  4. 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, participation in federally funded nutrition assistance programs for all who are eligible, and public policies that contribute to ending hunger. We also raise awareness of the health, economic, and educational benefits of anti-hunger programs. For more information, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Funded by NYSOTDA, FRAC, The Walmart Foundation, and Share Our Strength. This institution is an equal opportunity provider.


1 Food Research and Action Center, (2018). Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report.
2 Allington, Richard & McGill-Franzen, Anne. (2019). Why Summers Matter in the Rich/Poor Achievement Gap.
3 New York State Education Department, Summer Reading at New York Libraries. (Updated 2014). The Importance of Summer Reading: Public Library Summer Reading Programs and Learning