Summer and Afterschool Meals in Libraries

Providing children with meals at libraries is a great opportunity to combat food insecurity and improve the health and well-being of children in your communities

Child Nutrition in Libraries
two parent caregivers pick up meals for their children from their local library

Non-Congregate Summer Meal Models in Rural Communities

Many libraries began summer meal service during the COVID-19 Pandemic with the use of grab-and-go or drive-up meal models. The USDA has made those same program flexibilities permanent for all summer meal sites in rural areas. Learn more about how to implement non-congregate meal models in your summer meal program.

About Summer and Afterschool Meals

The Summer Food Service Program (summer meals) and the CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals Program (afterschool meals) are nutrition programs funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered at the state level by state agencies. Check out page nine of this resource to find out what state agency runs summer and afterschool meals in your state.

Both summer and afterschool meals operate through program sponsors who follow federal and state regulations and are financially administratively responsible for running the program. Sponsors work with sites to implement the programs in communities, and sites must be “area eligible” or where 50% or more students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals (see if your library is eligible here). While libraries can be eligible to be their own program sponsor, most opt to operate as a site only and work with another organization that sponsors the program. Many sponsors can be found using the National CACFP Association’s sponsor database; however, to see a full list of sponsors, ask your state agency.

Sites must be located in an attendance boundary of a school with 50% or more students eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Program operating the summer meals program can also use census data. Check out No Kid Hungry’s Averaged Eligibility Map to see if your site is eligible to serve meals. To learn more about area eligibility, check out No Kid Hungry's new resource, Navigating Area Eligibility in Summer and Afterschool Meals.

Ready to make the case to your colleagues and leadership? Check out No Kid Hungry's resource, Making the Case - Summer & Afterschool Meals in Libraries, and the Collaborative Summer Library Program’s factsheet to help your coworkers understand why nutrition programs in libraries just make sense!

Check out our summer and afterschool meals webpages to learn more!

Implementation Strategies

Ready to get started? Learn promising practices and innovative solutions to serving summer and afterschool meals in your library.

Planning for Success
Work closely with your program sponsor to identify staffing and equipment needs ahead of program start. Both summer and afterschool meals require site training and some administrative tasks. Your program sponsor will provide comprehensive training on the program, but be sure to save training resources and guides so any staff member operating the program feels empowered and ready to help.

Serving Meals
Every summer and afterschool meal must meet specific nutrition standards in order to be used in the program. However, program sponsors have the flexibility to serve a variety of meals and meal types that best meet the needs of sites and children. While library staff may be responsible for serving meals and recording counts, they are not responsible for procuring the meals. Sponsors may cook the meals themselves, or they might use a third-party vendor. Cold, hot, and shelf-stable meals are all options for your library depending on the infrastructure at your libraries.

While serving meals in the library can sometimes lead to spilled milk, the benefits of happy, well-fed children make up for it! In this case study, learn how the Whitney Library in Las Vegas fills both bellies and minds in their summer and afterschool meals programs.

Adult meals are not reimbursed through the summer or afterschool meals programs. However, many libraries offer meals to the whole family. Learn more with Lunch at the Library!

Building Partnerships
Community partnerships are critical to summer and afterschool program success. In addition to the partnership with sponsors, your library has the opportunity to work with others in your community to:

  • improve awareness of your program,
  • increase participation at your site, and
  • co-locate important resources for children and families.

Examples of partner organizations include schools, faith-based organizations, health centers, PTAs, and parent groups. Don’t forget about local agencies too! City council, the parks and recreation department, and housing authorities can be great partners in your programs too.

Check out resources from the Collaborative Summer Library Program on program planning and partnership.

Enrichment Activities

Providing enrichment activities draws children and families to the library, and offers a perfect counterpart to your summer and afterschool meals programs. Libraries can provide enrichment activity support to existing summer and afterschool meal programs when becoming a meal site themselves is not available.

While the Summer Food Service Program (summer meals) does not require an enrichment component, pairing meals with activities is an established best practice for boosting program participation and retention rates during the summer. It also helps prevent summer learning loss, which compounded over several school years contributes to the achievement gap between children from low-income families and children from higher-income families. This phenomenon is known as the “summer slide”. The CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals program (afterschool meals) does require an enrichment component to be paired with meals. However, children are not required to participate in the activity in order to receive a meal. The activity must simply be offered.

Luckily, libraries are the perfect place to provide fun and enriching activities to children!

Need ideas? Check out these Lunch at the LibraryProgramming Librarian, and USDA webpages for easy and fun enrichment activity ideas to include in your summer or afterschool meal program. iRead provides low-cost programming developed by librarians for summer reading programs. 

Promoting Meals at Libraries

Promotion is key to success! Make sure everyone in your community knows about your summer and afterschool meals program.

Outreach and Promotion
Raising awareness about your program is key to its success. Be sure to use all available communications channels available to you including printed materials at the library, email newsletters and listservs, and social media. Share program information with your partners, and ask them also share it with their networks.

Check out No Kid Hungry’s Summer Meals Outreach Toolkit for shareable graphics, posters and more, and don’t forget about No Kid Hungry’s summer meals texting site finder: text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 304-304 to find a site near you.

Engage Media & Elected Officials
A spotlight in your local newspaper or TV news channel can be a great strategy to get the word out about your program. Consider hosting a media event and inviting your local elected officials to visit.

USDA and Lunch at the Library also have great resources to boost your outreach and promotion efforts. 

Webinars, Trainings, Video and Audio Resources

Recent & Upcoming Webinars & Trainings
Check out all of No Kid Hungry's upcoming webinars here

  • Afterschool Meals in Libraries - Offering Year-Round Nutrition (Recording Available Here!)
    Wednesday, May 18, 2022
    Libraries provide a unique opportunity to combat food insecurity and improve the health and well-being of children in their communities. Interested in learning how? Join this webinar to learn how the Afterschool Meals Program can provide nutritious meals and snacks in libraries. You will hear from two libraries and a program sponsor – Jasmin LoBosso from the Kern County Library in California, Sarah Wright from the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Ohio, and Shannon Amos from the Children’s Hunger Alliance – about their experience starting Afterschool Meals Programs in libraries.

No Kid Hungry Webinar Recordings & Trainings
All Webinars - new and recorded

Specific to Libraries
Fueling Young Readers: Afterschool Meals At Libraries (slides & video)

Past Partner Resources
Lunch at the Library
Team Vittles podcast

State-Specific Resources

California - Lunch at the Library 

Connecticut - End Hunger Connecticut!

Iowa - Summer Food Service Program: Iowa Department of Education

Ohio - Summer Food Service Program: How Libraries Can Help and Team Vittles

Massachusetts - Books and Bites 

Minnesota - Making Summer Meals Work at Your Library

New Hampshire - New Hampshire Dept. of Education Summer Food Service Program

New York - Hunger Solutions | Summer Reading at New York Libraries 

Texas - To Be Well Read… You Must Be Well Fed: Public Libraries and the USDA Summer Food Service Program


Do you know of other national or state-specific resources not seen here? Let us know! Contact and include "Library Resource" in the subject line.

Program Sponsors of Library Meal Sites

Are you a program sponsor interested in connecting with libraries in your service area? This section is for you!

Partnering with libraries is a win-win-win for children, libraries, and program sponsors. Consider reaching out to your local library system to provide more information about both summer and afterschool meals.

If you already sponsor library sites for summer meals, consider expanding sponsorship year-round to provide nutritious afterschool snacks and meals during the school year. Libraries are a fantastic partner for afterschool meals as many already operate afterschool activities for children meeting CACFP’s enrichment component requirement.

Check out No Kid Hungry’s summer meals and afterschool meals webpages to learn more!