Lunch at the library: examination of a community-based approach to addressing summer food insecurity

Public Health Nutr. 2017 Jun;20(9):1640-1649. doi: 10.1017/S1368980017000258. Epub 2017 Mar 20.


Objective: To examine a library-based approach to addressing food insecurity through a child and adult summer meal programme. The study examines: (i) risk of household food insecurity among participants; (ii) perspectives on the library meal programme; and (iii) barriers to utilizing other community food resources.

Design: Quantitative surveys with adult participants and qualitative semi-structured interviews with a sub-sample of adult participants.

Setting: Ten libraries using public and private funding to serve meals to children and adults for six to eight weeks in low-income Silicon Valley communities (California, USA) during summer 2015.

Subjects: Adult survey participants (≥18 years) were recruited to obtain maximum capture, while a sub-sample of interview participants was recruited through maximum variation purposeful sampling.

Results: Survey participants (n 161) were largely Latino (71 %) and Asian (23 %). Forty-one per cent of participants screened positive for risk of food insecurity in the past 12 months. A sub-sample of programme participants engaged in qualitative interviews (n 67). Interviewees reported appreciating the library's child enrichment programmes, resources, and open and welcoming atmosphere. Provision of adult meals was described as building community among library patrons, neighbours and staff. Participants emphasized lack of awareness, misinformation about programmes, structural barriers (i.e. transportation), immigration fears and stigma as barriers to utilizing community food resources.

Conclusions: Food insecurity remains high in our study population. Public libraries are ideal locations for community-based meal programmes due to their welcoming and stigma-free environment. Libraries are well positioned to link individuals to other social services given their reputation as trusted community organizations.

Keywords: Food insecurity; Public libraries; Qualitative study; Summer meal programme.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • California
  • Child
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Food Assistance*
  • Food Supply*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lunch
  • Male
  • Meals*
  • Poverty
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Seasons*