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Libraries are Bridging the Summer Gap for Hungry Kids

Civil Eats – Lunch at the Library programs support kids from food-insecure households and underscore the evolving roles of libraries.

“School districts across the U.S. are beginning to close their doors for summer vacation, giving students a respite from classes and exams. But for millions of young people from food-insecure households, there’s less to celebrate—because summer break puts an end to the free and reduced-price lunches they’re eligible for during the school year. Since 2011, in California, young people have found sustenance and assistance in an unlikely place: the public library. That’s the year the Oakland Public Library in Northern California started serving free lunches of sandwiches, fruit, and milk to local children at three of its branches. “We were seeing hungry kids coming in and staying the whole day,” says Derrick DeMay, Oakland’s supervising branch librarian. “Hungry kids act in ways that are unproductive. One solution is to say, ‘You’re out for not following the rules.’ But that doesn’t help anybody.” The library’s decision to feed kids instead of ejecting them was quiet testament to the long, lingering shadow of food insecurity, which, despite some fluctuations, has remained consistent at around 12 percent of the nation’s households since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began tracking it in 1995. (That figure is 14.4 percent in Alameda County, which encompasses Oakland.) “A very basic need was not being met and we realized, these kids just need to be fed,” says DeMay. At the California Library Association (CLA), program director Natalie Cole watched Oakland’s summer lunch experiment with interest, while amassing reports from librarians in other parts of the state about encounters with ravenous kids acting up and asking for snacks. In 2013, she and Patrice Chamberlain, director of the California Summer Meal Coalition, received a private grant to follow Oakland’s lead and pilot a summer lunch program at 17 California library branches…”

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