Connecting Kids and Teens with Summer Nutrition
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. Fewer than one in four of NY’s low-income students have access to USDA summer nutrition programs; this nutritional gap contributes to summer learning loss, which may disproportionately affect children from low-income households, exacerbating socioeconomic disparities in literacy and math.
The good news is that an increasing number of partners, including libraries, are working together to ensure kids have access to healthy food year-round. As trusted and valued community centers, many libraries find that offering meals and snacks to youth makes good sense for their summer programming, brings in new patrons, and aligns with their mission.
In 2021, 39 libraries were approved to serve summer meals or snacks through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federally funded program that enables qualified organizations – including libraries – to serve free meals to kids and teens in low-income areas. Before the pandemic, library participation was even higher, with 133 libraries approved to serve summer meals in 2019. Many more libraries help promote summer meals through outreach to their patrons and broader community.
The SFSP is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture and the New York State Education Department. There are a variety of meaningful ways your library can be part of this essential and underused child nutrition program, including:
- Providing information to help families learn about summer meal sites near them.
- Serving snacks or meals right at the library to enhance your programming.
- Providing summer reading activities at local sites.
- Encouraging more partners in your community to get involved.
Tips to Get Started:
- Determine your community’s need and if your library is in an eligible area.To serve as an open summer meal site, your location must be “area eligible,” meaning the majority of kids in your surrounding area would qualify for free or reduced-priced school meals. To see if your branch location is eligible, and to compare your location with other community partners and last summer’s meal sites, use the layering tools within the USDA’s Capacity Builder Mapper embedded on SummerMealsNY.org.
- Partner with local organizations that are already involved. Schools, food banks, and other community groups may be serving summer meals to kids in your community. You can partner with an organization to coordinate enrichment activities at existing locations and/or they may prepare and deliver meals to your library. Use the Summer Meals Sponsor Directory to find sponsors near you.
- Visit SummerMealsNY.org to access free outreach resources, including flyers and rack cards in English and Spanish you can order in bulk from NYS Education Department. You can also access flyers that provide more information about becoming a summer meal site or partner – including our “To be Well Read, You Must be Well Fed” flyer for libraries – and our report on statewide and county-specific summer meals participation; share these resources with other libraries and community organizations to encourage more partners to get involved.
- Add a summer meals button graphic to your website and social media. Embed a colorful button, like the one below, linked to SummerMealsNY.org, on your library’s website, on your library’s website, social media channels, or e-newsletters to help families find summer meals near them. Year-round, embed a modified version of the graphic that encourages more community groups to serve summer meals. To view and download a variety of options, click here.
- Connect with other programs that help alleviate hunger in your community:
- WIC provides pregnant women, new moms, infants and children under age 5 with healthy food, help with breastfeeding, nutrition advice, and referrals to other services. For help with WIC, visit WICHelpNY.org.
- Partner with your local Nutrition Outreach and Education Program coordinator to connect eligible library participants of all ages with monthly SNAP benefits.
- Share information with families about school meals.
- If your library offers structured afterschool enrichment programming, consider offering free, healthy afterschool snacks or meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Contact us to learn more.
For more information about summer meals and other nutrition programs that can benefit your patrons, contact: Krista Hesdorfer, Child Nutrition Programs Specialist, Hunger Solutions New York, (518) 436-8757 x137 or firstname.lastname@example.org