The Nutrition Society Paper of the Month for April is from Public Health Nutrition and is entitled: ‘Lunch at the library: examination of a community-based approach to addressing summer food insecurity‘ by Janine S Bruce, Monica M De La Cruz, Gala Moreno and Lisa J Chamberlain.

During the Great Recession, rates of food insecurity (FI) in families across the US reached unprecedented levels,1 and disproportionately impacting children.2 Child FI in the US is not a new problem, however. The US government recognized the detrimental effects of FI on children and created the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in 1946, creating one of the most important nutrition safety net programs for children. Currently the program serves approximately 32 million children annually.3, 4, 5

In the summer when school is out, however, child FI rates increase as children lose access to school meals. To address summer hunger, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) was established in 1975, to allow schools and non-profit organizations the opportunity provide meals to children during the summer.6 Despite widespread utilization of free and reduced-priced meals during the school year, only 3.8 million children participated in summer meal programs in 2014,6 highlighting the difficulty of reaching children during the summer.7

To address summer FI, libraries began serving meals to children using SFSP funding, with one of the earliest programs taking place at an Oakland, California public library in 2011.8 Libraries around the country have replicated this model, but there are no current studies examining the role of public libraries in addressing summer FI. In 2015, 10 Silicon Valley libraries served summer meals to children and adults, leveraging SFSP funding for child meals and private funding from a local food bank and children’s hospital for adult meals. Across these libraries we assessed 1) risk of household food insecurity among library participants, 2) perspectives on the library meal program, and 3) barriers to utilizing other community food resources. We collected quantitative (surveys) and qualitative (semi-structured interviews) data from adult meal program.

We found that 41% of survey participants (n=161) screened positive for risk of FI in the past 12 months. Ninety-one percent of participants attended the library meal program on a regular basis (at least once per week). Feedback on the meal program was positive. Provision of adult meals in addition to child meals was described as building community among library patrons, neighbors and staff. Interview participants reported appreciating the library’s child enrichment programs, resources, and open and welcoming atmosphere inherent at the library. One Latina/African American female participant said:

“The way this community is served, this branch, serves the community. I understand that this is different than the other [branches]. But it’s good… Personally, I like the way that this branch treats the people, and the community.”

When asked about utilization of other food resources (i.e. pantries, hot meals, and public safety net programs such as SNAP), participants cited lack of awareness, misinformation about programs, structural barriers (i.e. transportation), immigration fears, and stigma as barriers to use, confirming findings from previous studies.9, 10, 11, 12

Our study demonstrates that public libraries are ideal locations for community-based meal programs due to their welcoming and stigma-free environment. In addition to providing meals, libraries are well positioned to link individuals to other needed social services given their reputation as trusted community organizations.

The full paper ‘Lunch at the library: examination of a community-based approach to addressing summer food insecurity’ is freely available until the 1st May 2017


Nutrition Society Paper of the Month
Each month a paper is selected by one of the Editors of the five Nutrition Society Publications (British Journal of Nutrition, Public Health Nutrition, Nutrition Research Reviews, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society and Journal of Nutritional Science).

Take a look at at the entire Nutrition Society Paper of the Month collection


  1. Gundersen C (2013) Food insecurity is an ongoing national concern. Adv Nutr 4, 36-41.
  2. Oberg CN (2011) The Great Recession’s impact on children. Matern Child Health 15, 553-554.
  3. Gitterman BA, Chilton LA, Cotton WH, et al. (2015) Promoting food security for all children. Pediatrics 136, e1431-e1438.
  4. Gundersen C, Kreider B, Pepper J (2012) The impact of the National School Lunch Program on child health: A nonparametric bounds analysis. J Econom 166, 79-91.
  5. Gundersen C, Ver Ploeg M (2015) Food Assistance Programs and Child Health. Future Child 25, 91.
  6. US Department of Agriculture (2013) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP): Food and Nutrition Service. (accessed June 2016)
  7. Bookey JL (2015) 8 awesome ways libraries are making learning fun. The Huffington Post, 29 June. (accessed February 2017)
  8. Ishuzuka K (2014) Libraries needed to host summer meal programs. Here’s how to help. School Library Journal, 7 July. (accessed February 2017)
  9. Schanzenbach DW (2009) Experimental Estimates of the Barriers to Food Stamp Enrollment. Madison, WI: Institute for Research on Poverty.
  10. Kaushal N, Waldfogel J, & Wight V (2013) Food insecurity and SNAP participation in Mexican immigrant families: the impact of the outreach initiative. B E J Econom Anal Policy 14, 203-240.
  11. Bartlett S, Burstein N, & Hamilton W (2004) Food Stamp Program Access Study: Eligble Nonparticipants. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service; available at
  12. Levedahl JW (1995) How much can informational outreach programs increase food stamp program participation? Am J Agric Econ 77, 343-352.

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