Hungry kids don’t read. They can’t concentrate; their physical, social, and emotional well-being suffers; and they don’t participate successfully in library activities. Every summer, 22 million US children who receive free or reduced-price school meals1, including 12.5 million who live in food-insecure households2, lose access to the daily breakfast and lunch served in school. During the summer, many students also lack the other benefits of school, including engagement, learning, adults present, a temperature-controlled environment – things libraries can provide.

The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) makes free healthy meals and snacks available to young people in communities with high rates of poverty. Many public libraries already participate as meal or snack sites, or provide programming to nearby feeding sites. Libraries can incorporate their summer library program and other fun, literacy-based activities to support child well-being and send children and teens back to school ready to learn.

Your library can be part of the solution to childhood hunger. Become an SFSP site or partner with existing sites, publicize the program, and connect your young patrons to healthy food. If your community is not eligible for SFSP, you have other options for helping to feed young people.

Besides the obvious benefits of addressing hunger and supporting vulnerable youth, participation can benefit libraries in many ways, including:

  • Access to new user groups, especially underserved and marginalized populations;
  • Increased visibility of the library as a community asset;
  • Opportunities for new partnerships;
  • Positioning of the library as an important stakeholder in community well-being and positive child outcomes;
  • Support for summer library programming through increased attendance.

The CSLP Child and Community Well-Being committee has created this how-to guide to help libraries get started.

The guide begins with an overview of SFSP, a federally funded, state-administered program.

Next is a checklist for libraries to determine their eligibility and take the first steps toward becoming an SFSP site.

If your library is not in an eligible geographic area, or if SFSP is not a good fit for your library but you still want to serve food, consult the section on alternatives to SFSP and other ways to help. This section is also for those who don’t plan to serve food at the library, but still want to support summer feeding.

Next, review tips, checklists, best practices, and innovative ideas to plan for a successful summer, from space considerations, to programming, to staffing, and more. Need to build support among colleagues, administration, and other stakeholders? Find basic talking points and additional advocacy and awareness materials in this section.

Finally, a resource list gathers links to essential and supplemental sources to help you connect children and teens in your community to healthy food throughout the summer.

Thank you for all you do to support young people!


1 USDA Child Nutrition Tables:

2 USDA Economic Research Service, Household Food Security in the United States in 2017, September 2018.

Next: Overview of SFSP


The Summer Food Service Program is a nationwide, federally funded, state-administered nutrition program. Its purpose is to provide healthy meals and snacks to children in low income areas when school is out for the summer.

The USDA reimburses sponsoring agencies that provide food to children and teens ages 0-18 in geographically eligible areas, that is, where 50% or more of students are eligible for free or reduced price school meals. However, ANY child ages 0-18 may receive food at an SFSP site. There is no requirement of individual eligibility, and no information is requested of participating children or their guardians or caregivers. For detailed information about eligibility, see the USDA memorandum “Area Eligibility in Child Nutrition Programs”:

The SFSP has specific and strict guidelines about meal composition, food handling, serving meals, recordkeeping, reporting, training, and all aspects of the program. For detailed information, see SFSP Program Guidance:

SFSP Roles:

The federal administering agency is the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (USDA FNS), which funds and oversees the SFSP.

A state government agency administers the program in each state. This may be the state Department of Education, Agriculture, or Health. See for a state-by-state list.

Sponsors are establishments that handle the financial, administrative and food service responsibilities for SFSP in an area. Schools, local government agencies, camps, faith-based and other non-profit community organizations with the ability to manage a food service program may be SFSP sponsors. Sponsors may contract with food service providers and do not have to prepare the food themselves. Sponsors are reimbursed for their allowable expenses by the USDA. A sponsor may itself be a site, may work with other sites, or both. A few libraries are sponsors as well as sites.

Sites are the locations where SFSP-reimbursed meals or snacks are served to children and teens. Sites may be located in a variety of settings, including schools, parks, libraries, community centers, health clinics, hospitals, apartment complexes, churches, and migrant centers. Sites work directly with sponsors. Most participating libraries are sites.

For more information:

USDA Summer Food Service Program

USDA Summer Meal Program Basics (from Lunch at the Library)

Next: Becoming an SFSP Site


First, assess whether your library has the capacity to serve food. Food service is likely a new and very different activity than you and your staff are accustomed to, but it is not exceptionally challenging. Hundreds of libraries, many with limited staff and resources, have successfully implemented food service during the summer – the time of year when libraries are generally busiest with programming! Summer food service is within reach for most libraries. Note that as a site, you do not have to purchase or prepare the food.

Typically, a library must have:

  • Staff and/or volunteers to set up and distribute food, supervise, clean up, and complete basic paperwork.
  • Support from library administration and any other key stakeholders.
  • Training by the sponsor, required for the site supervisor and for staff or volunteers serving the food.
  • Space for children and teens to sit and eat.
  • Equipment as needed to maintain safe food temperatures: most often, refrigerator space if cold food is to be stored on site. If food is served shortly after delivery and leftovers are not stored on site, access to coolers may be sufficient.
  • Large garbage cans, cleaning supplies, and staffing support to handle cleaning and garbage disposal.

Next, determine whether you are eligible to be an SFSP site. Eligibility is based on the economic conditions of a geographic area, measured by school data or census data.

Determine whether you are eligible under SFSP

  • Go to the USDA’s Area Eligibility Map:
  • Enter your library’s address.
  • If you are in a PINK area, you are eligible to be an SFSP site.
  • If you are in a BLUE area, you are not eligible under area eligibility. See Alternatives to SFSP and Other Ways to Help in this guide for your next steps.
  • If you are in a blue area but adjacent or very close to a pink area, contact your state SFSP administering agency (find yours using this directory: State administering agencies are permitted to use weighted averages to calculate eligibility when appropriate. Weighted averages may change your eligibility if you are adjacent to eligible areas.

If sites already exist near your library, consider contacting them to offer outreach programming or other support (See Alternatives to SFSP and Other Ways to Help). You may also get their advice on whether an additional site at the library would benefit the community.

Determine if your area is already well-served by SFSP sites

  • Wait for the map to fully load, then search for your address.
  • Click on the box for “FY19 FNS CACFP SFSP Eligibility” to turn on the pink/blue area eligibility coding.
  • Click on the box for Summer Meal Sites for the most recent year to see SFSP sites near you.
  • You may also click on any of the other boxes (schools, libraries, housing, etc.) to see where these assets are in your area.

If you serve an eligible area and wish to become a site, identify and contact a local sponsor or contact your state administering agency.

Locate a sponsor

  • Contact the SFSP site or sites nearest to you and ask for their sponsor’s contact information. Identify sites using the USDA’s Capacity Builder Map, above.
  • If there are no SFSP sites near you and you are in an eligible area, you may choose to contact your school district administrative offices or the food bank that serves your area, to discuss the possibility of their becoming an SFSP sponsor and using your library as a site.
  • Or, contact the SFSP administering agency for your state and indicate that you would like to become an SFSP site. The state administering agency can advise you and can refer you to the nearest sponsor. For a directory of state administering agencies:

Your sponsor or state administering agency will assist you with next steps.

For more information, see the USDA’s Site Supervisor’s Guide available here:

and the USDA flyer “SFSP Dos and Don’ts for Site Supervisors” available here:

Next: Alternatives to SFSP & Other Ways to Help


Non-SFSP ways to provide food (if not eligible or if SFSP is not a good fit)

If SFSP is not a good fit for your library or your service area is not eligible, you can still host a summer food program by working with businesses, nonprofits, and other community partners to provide meals or snacks. Library District #2 of Linn County in La Cygne, KS tried several approaches before finding one that truly suited the library and its community. This library’s experience affirms that “summer lunch is great! You have to find the model that works for you.”

Check out Medway (MA) Public Library as another example:

“What tips would you offer to other public libraries who do not qualify for Project Bread funding (i.e. for Massachusetts SFSP sites) and would still like to offer a summer lunch program?

  • We were amazed at how many businesses and organizations were happy to donate. Don’t hesitate to ask, even if the business is unrelated to food.
  • Start out small – one meal a week worked well for us.
  • We found that it was not necessary to ask people to sign up – when we offered lunch one day during February and April vacation without a sign-up, we still had a good turnout.
  • We planned for 20-30 people each week. Had a larger number showed up, we planned to make a quick run to a local pizza shop or to a deli for more sandwiches.
  • Make sure you have enough volunteers with driver’s licenses to pick up the food. We had no problem finding wonderful volunteers of all ages to serve the lunches.”


In rural areas it may be necessary to bring food to patrons through outreach initiatives. Consider providing food through bookmobile stops and other outreach programming. The USDA addresses the special challenges of serving summer meals in rural communities:

“The challenges presented by rural hunger may mean that additional approaches need to be employed to address the need. Other models for bringing food to the community include tailgate food giveaways and food trucks, mobile pantries which distribute free food, mobile markets which sell food, community owned stores, and corner stores.”

For more information, check out the USDA’s “Rural Challenges and Summer Meals”:

Don’t plan to serve food at the library, but want to support summer feeding?

If being a food service site is not a good fit for your library, you can still support and collaborate with existing SFSP sites.

First, use the USDA Capacity Builder map to identify existing sites:

  • Wait for the map to fully load, then search for your address.
  • Click on the box for Summer Meal Sites for the most recent year to see SFSP sites near you.

After locating nearby sites, reach out to see how you can support and enrich their summer food program. Some ideas:

  • Add summer food sites to your bookmobile stops during the summer.
  • Hold library card registration at summer food sites.
  • Sign up children, teens, and adults for your Summer Library Program.
  • Create pop-up libraries at summer food sites. Check out Lunch at the Library for an example. (
  • Provide book giveaways.
  • Offer passive programs such as make & take crafts, coloring sheets, etc.
  • Share library communications, flyers, or literature.

You can also publicize local SFSP sites to your library patrons who may not be aware that free healthy meals are available in the community:

  • Include SFSP sites and information in library communications and publicity materials.
  • Create a document with language or talking points for librarians to advocate for SFSP and other child well-being efforts in the community.
  • Share SFSP information in story times and other children’s and teen programming.
  • Tell your young patrons and their families about these tools for finding SFSP sites:

For More Information:

Promote Summer Meals
Outreach and publicity materials and guidance from No Kid Hungry’s Center for Best Practices

Raise Awareness

Promotional materials from the USDA

Also check the “Raising Awareness” section of the USDA’s Summer Meals Toolkit for a series of tipsheets on reaching out to specific audiences and using various media:

Next: Planning for a Successful Summer


Several points in this section are taken from “Tips from Fresno County Staff,” a document available on the Lunch at the Library website. These points are indicated with an asterisk (*). Used with permission.

Some suggestions are taken from the library section of the USDA’s Summer Meal Toolkit. These points are indicated with two asterisks (**).

Creating an inviting space

  • The ideal location for food service can vary, and may include a community room, a library café, or a nearby park. Ideally, the space will be accessible and easy to find. Consider your expected participation rate when selecting a location, and search for a space where you will not have capacity issues. Remember: if provided under SFSP, meals and snacks must be consumed on-site! **
  • Translate program rules into families’ primary languages, taking into account potential issues of limited literacy. *
  • Use multiple methods to communicate the short list of program rules. *
  • Table toppers with basic program rules alleviate some of the burden on library staff of continually reminding families about the rules. *
  • Get involved in the experience by encouraging children to try new foods. When possible, sit with children during meals, and using positive phrasing to promote healthy eating. See the USDA Site Supervisor’s guide for more information.

Implementing a food service program with limited staffing and resources

  • Be mindful of lunch hour staffing constraints. Maximize use of your volunteers! *
  • Consider how late in the summer to continue offering food service. Statistics indicate participation frequently drops off in the latter part of the summer, but need may still be present.
  • If your sponsor can operate the food service until close to the start of school, what type of outreach efforts can the library pursue to help sustain participation? *

Programming to complement the meal/snack service

  • Schedule staffed library programs (storytimes, outside presenters, etc.) or volunteer-led programs before or after food service time, not simultaneously. Informal storytelling, book sharing, or other simple activities may succeed during food service time, but food-related noise and activity levels are generally quite high.
  • Announce Summer Library Program registration and opportunities during meal/snack times.
  • Include passive programs, like a question of the day, word of the day, or make-and-take craft.
  • Participate in the First Book program to create a summer meal book collection. Read more about the USDA/First Books partnership by visiting the USDA blog.
  • Early August may be a good time to start bridging the meal/snack service with library Back-to-School Readiness programming. If food service ends many weeks before school starts, be sure to have signs for families letting them know about the change. It is a good idea to offer information about other resources to find food (e.g. other summer food sites still in operation, local food pantries, National Hunger Hotline). *

Providing food for adults

  • Note that food provided by SFSP may not be consumed by parents or caregivers unless they themselves are 18 or under, or in some cases if they are volunteering or on staff.
  • Create a handout that lists local free food programs available to adults. Distribute it during meal/snack times.
  • See the Lunch at the Library website for detailed guidance and ideas on providing meals/snacks to adults.

Working with volunteers and youth development opportunities

  • Consider opportunities to find volunteers and interns through community partners, youth service agencies, and local universities.
  • Consider asking volunteers to commit to a minimum of five to ten shifts to provide the children with consistent role models during the summer. **
  • Consider asking groups, such as faith-based organizations, civic organizations, and local clubs, to supply all volunteers needed for one week at a time, or for one day a week throughout the summer.
  • If volunteering at an SFSP site, all volunteers must attend a training session held by the sponsor before volunteering. If the library has a large number of volunteers, the sponsor may consider visiting the library to run the training. **
  • If the library requires fingerprinting or background checks for new volunteers, allow ample time and resources to complete this process. **

Gaining staff and leadership buy-in

  • Share these talking points with colleagues, administrators, potential community partners, and others:
    • Children are going hungry in communities across the United States. Nationwide, only one in six children who receive free or reduced price school meals participates in summer meal programs (
    • There is funding available to feed them. Participating sponsors are reimbursed the cost of providing food through the SFSP through federal funds administered by the USDA.
    • It really is simple. Libraries don’t need to prepare food, or design or adapt new or unwieldy programs. Initial involvement in the program is easy, often requiring little more than contacting a sponsor.
    • It aligns with the mission of the public library. Summer library programs have long been a pillar of library literacy programming for young patrons, but hungry kids don’t read. They can become trapped in a cycle of poor school performance and ill health that can have lifelong literacy and learning consequences.
    • Libraries, the leader in the fight against summer learning loss, are natural partners and ideal sites for summer meals/snacks. By combining healthy food with reading programs, library-based summer food sites nourish children’s minds and bodies! **
    • When school is out, low-income children who rely on school meals are harmed by the summer hunger and achievement gaps. Libraries are in a unique position to bridge both gaps at once by providing the healthy meals and enrichment activities our children need to thrive, all year round. **
    • Engaging in summer meals/snacks supports library goals by attracting new users to the library, strengthening community partnerships, providing an opportunity to educate families about library services, and boosting overall participation in summer library programs. **
    • Participating in a summer meal/snack program allows the library to serve and strengthen the community, feeding children’s minds and bodies and creating a dependable ‘summer safety net’ for local families. **

Engaging community partners

  • Find out if your SFSP sponsor can provide an employee to staff the lunch service (or find a creative solution to support one of your employees). *
  • Consider partnering with other organizations to spread out the responsibilities of providing summer meals/snacks. See this example from Red Lodge, Montana. Also see “Working with volunteers,” above.
  • Encourage other organizations in your community to refer young people to the library for summer meals/snacks.
  • Consider ways that community partners could offer enrichment activities before/after food service time. A local gym or wellness entity might provide a fitness program or coaches for pick-up sports games. Teachers from the schools, or faculty at a local college or university, might share their expertise from music to zoology.


  • Align evaluation of your summer food service with evaluation of other library programs and services. Use or adapt the assessment tools that already work for you.
  • Consider using this guide from the Food Research & Action Center that sets standards of excellence for summer food sites to a create a site evaluation.
  • The No Kid Hungry campaign provides a set of best practices centering on pairing meals with activities, increasing the accessibility and appeal of the meals, and engaging youth as partners in program operations and outreach.

For More Information:

Food Research and Action Center: Summer Nutrition Programs
Statistics, success stories, and an array of additional resources to promote and advocate for summer food service.

Lunch at the Library: Programming
A collection of ideas and tips for incorporating programming at library-based SFSP sites.

Programming Librarian
A website of the ALA Public Programs Office that supports librarians who plan and present cultural and community programs.

Raising Awareness
Talking points, sample PSAs and letters, and other outreach and advocacy tools directed to specific audiences including parents, elected leaders, school administrators, and more.

Summer Food, Summer Moves
This resource kit from the USDA focuses on using music, games, art, and movement to promote healthy eating and physical activity during the summer.

USDA SFSP Best Practices
Tips, ideas, and successful practices on all aspects of summer food service, collected from across the United States.

Next: Resource List


CSLP Summer Meals Factsheet: [pdf] [png]

“CSLP – Feeding the Whole Child: Libraries and Food” Facebook group

Read Up! A mini-manual for summer feeding sites
Featuring easy-to-implement enrichment activities that support reading, creativity, and fun.

This is a 26-page resource for SFSP and other feeding sites outside of libraries. State library agencies and public libraries are encouraged to share this resource with local feeding sites to give them tools and ideas for integrating enrichment programming that supports reading and literacy. The activities are based on programs in the CSLP manual, and are adapted for non-library settings.

Customize page 2 with your library’s information and page 26 with your library’s logo before distributing:
Online version (accessible for screen readers):
Print version:

If you do not choose to customize, here is a version that is ready to print and distribute:
Print version, no customization:

State Resources:

State-by-state directory of SFSP Administering Agencies

State-level Libraries and Summer Food guides:

Lunch at the Library (California)
Summer Food Service Program: How Libraries Can Help (Ohio)
To Be Well Read… You Must Be Well Fed: Public Libraries and the USDA Summer Food Service Program (Texas)
Making Summer Meals Work at Your Library (Minnesota)
Connecting Kids and Teens with Nutrition Over the Summer (New York)
Kentucky Summer Food Service Collaboration
Summer Food Service Program: Iowa Department of Education
Books and Bites (Massachusetts)

Nationwide Food Bank Directory

Cooperative Extension Offices
A national directory of county extension offices in U.S. states and territories.

USDA Resources:

Summer Meals Toolkit

Capacity Builder Map

Area Eligibility Map

Site Supervisor’s Guide

SFSP Best Practices
Tips, ideas, and successful practices on all aspects of summer food service, collected from across the United States.


Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT data center
State and local-level data on child/community well-being indicators.

Food Resource and Action Center (FRAC)
The FRAC website provides state-specific data, anti-hunger advocate contacts, and other helpful resources. Each June, FRAC issues its Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation report that features a state-by-state analysis of participation trends and opportunities to reach more kids.


Lunch at the Library: Programming
A collection of ideas and tips for incorporating programming at library-based SFSP sites.

Programming Librarian
A website of the ALA Public Programs Office that supports librarians who plan and present cultural and community programs.

Summer Food, Summer Moves
This resource kit from the USDA focuses on using music, games, art, and movement to promote healthy eating and physical activity during the summer.

Publicity and Advocacy:

Promote Summer Meals
Outreach and publicity materials and guidance from No Kid Hungry’s Center for Best Practices.

Raise Awareness
Promotional materials, including printable flyers, posters, and bookmarks, and audio PSAs from the USDA.

USDA Summer Meals Toolkit: “Raising Awareness” section
A series of tipsheets on reaching out to specific audiences and using various media.

Library Stories:

The CCWB Committee collects stories showcasing the experiences of public libraries that participate in the SFSP or other initiatives to help kids and teens stay nourished, active, and healthy when school is out. These stories appear monthly in the CSLP newsletter (beginning January 2019) and here:

Libraries Provide Much Needed Access to Nutrition in the Summer”
This article from WebJunction compiles the experiences of several public libraries into an overview of how summer food integrates into library activities.

Next: Acknowledgements


This guide was researched and written by the CSLP Child and Community Well Being (CCWB) Committee and by Heather West, whose participation was made possible through a spring 2019 Kent State University iSchool practicum assignment at the State Library of Ohio.

The CCWB Committee acknowledges these individuals and entities for their generosity in advising the committee, reviewing draft content, or permitting use of their material in this guide:

Dr. Noah Lenstra, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Alan Shannon and Penny Weaver, USDA Food & Nutrition Service
Natalie Cole, California State Library
Luke Kralik, CSLP
Fresno County (CA) Library
Medway (MA) Public Library
Lunch at the Library
Massachusetts Library System
State Library of Ohio
USDA Food & Nutrition Service

Originally published April 2019

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