We are thrilled to welcome guest writer Jennifer Flynn to share her experiences in partnering with a summer meals program. This is a win-win partnership for all involved and we strongly encourage you to reach out now to such programs if you are interested.
I recently read an article on The Outreach Librarian about how summer can be boring for librarians. Boring, I thought? How can this be? Who has time to be bored!? Summers at my library are extremely busy but so much fun! One of my favorite things that Outreach does in the summer is Summer Meals! Do you have a Summer Meals program in your community? If you do, I highly encourage you to get involved in yours! It’s a great way to meet the needs of people who may never make it in to the library and also promote summer programming.
We have been doing Summer Meal programming for several years now. I live and work in a small community that has many low income families. Summer Meals provides two free meals for children every week day and adults can eat for a few dollars. Last year, the program was expanded to two sites, each one at a school. It is great- families come in, eat a healthy meal together, and then come have fun with us! We visit each site once a week during lunch, and each week has a theme, with several activities. Last summer, we focused on letting the families be super creative together- we made Can-Do Robots, Plant Monsters, and Shell creatures. Basically, we put out a plethora of supplies (feather, google eyes, pom-poms, pipe cleaners, buttons, magnets, recycled materials) and they create something unique and fun! We also always include simpler crafts and masks for our younger visitors. I love Summer Meals because we have a chance to do crafts that we can’t do in a classroom. It’s a great time to think outside of the box and try new things!
How do you get started? I would contact the person in charge of your Summer Meal site. For us, this is the head of Food Services for the school. I usually email her around April and set up dates (last year we did Tuesdays and Thursdays) so we can begin promoting in the schools in May. We start planning our themed weeks early and begin finding activities and crafts that fit into each one. We usually start with 10 and then narrow down to around 5 activities for each week. The supply list is the hardest part- some days we have 100 people, some we have 37. You just never know! We try to pick attention catching themes- Blast off, Monsters, Rock Stars, Safari, 4th of July, Robots, the Beach and Frozen were last years. We place signs around the Summer Meals site for each month so families can plan on attending and each week we put up examples to get their attention. The lunch ladies often get involved, making Can-Do Robots to decorate the cafeteria, or wearing Patriotic Hats while serving the food during our 4th of July week! We have been told on several occasions that attendance at Summer Meals is higher on the days we are there and often we see the same families at both sites and then later at the library! Summer Meals is a great way to get to know families, encourage time together, and promote our Summer Reading Challenge activities!
Jennifer Flynn is the Outreach Services Coordinator at the Bedford Public Library in Bedford, Indiana. She does a lot of amazing programming!