As the children’s librarian at the East Smithfield Public Library, I periodically attend monthly Children’s Service Round Table meetings. Attended by Rhode Island children’s librarians, these meetings are held at different library locations and each agenda focuses on a variety of topics of concern and interest. The meetings are run by Danielle Margarida, the Youth Services Coordinator, at OLIS. At one of the meetings about the Summer Reading Program, Azade Perin, Child Nutrition Program Outreach Coordinator from the Rhode Island Department of Education, gave a presentation about Summer Meals. She wanted to let librarians know that summer meals can be served at public libraries. Her enthusiasm about making sure children can access food throughout the summer was infectious.
Summer meals are funded by the USDA and certain requirements need to be met, in order for a library to qualify as a site to serve meals. According to the USDA website (2017), “a site is the physical location, approved by the State agency, where you serve SFSP (Summer Food Service Program)”. Libraries are considered open sites, which are sites “that operate in low-income areas where at least 50 percent of children residing in the area are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, based on local school or census data” (USDA, 2017). Since libraries are considered open sites, they are seen as ideal places for serving summer meals. One of the main perks of being an open site is that any child may receive a meal without a parent/caregiver filling out any paperwork. All meals are served to children and teens under the age of eighteen and must be eaten on-site (USDA, 2017).
After that meeting with Ms. Perin, I received an email letting me know that East Smithfield Public Library would qualify as an open site. After two meetings and a few emails, everything was finalized. We were able to use our programming room to serve the meals. We decided on a schedule of Mondays through Thursdays from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm, beginning on July 9th and ending on August 16th.
The role the library plays in this is simple. We set up the room, and the meal provider (usually associated with the food service program at the local public school department) comes and serves the meals. I used some ideas from articles on summer meal programs held at other libraries. I put tablecloths on the tables and provided small activities for the children such as books, coloring sheets and Legos. I also scheduled programming to take place before and after the lunch program.
Since the program has started, twelve meals have been served, on average, each day. It seems like a small amount, but I believe that there has been a positive impact in the community. There are patrons attending the lunch program who are new to the library. They are attending story times and using the children’s area. There are teens who are walking to the library to have lunch and to use the computers. And, there are children who typically come to the library, enjoying lunch as well. Overall, this has been a positive experience for our library, and I hope that we can do it again next summer.
See coverage of the program in the Local News
Carol Derosier, Children’s Librarian
East Smithfield Public Library