Access to food is important and for many young children the most nutritious meals are eaten at school. On weekends and during the summer months, many students go without food, but Kent District Library (KDL) has a program that aims to help fill these nutrition gaps.
Lunches at the Library, otherwise known as the “Gather 2 Grow” program, helps fuel growing bodies and keep young minds engaged by providing free lunches to students ages 2-18 (or up to 26 with varying mental or physical abilities), weekdays from June to August.
Joyanne Huston-Swanson, community engagement librarian and bookmobile for KDL, says the food program, in partnership with Feed America West Michigan has been going on for a few years.
“KDL has partnered with Feeding America West Michigan for student summer lunches since 2018. It started at four of our smaller, more rural branches, which had higher rates of students at their local schools receiving lunches free or reduced,” she says. “It grew in 2019 and included about 10 branches.”
Like most organizations, they had to change formats during the pandemic. “In 2020, we had to pivot and move to the take-out option in order to meet COVID-19 health and safety guidelines,” says Huston-Swanson. “All of those pick-up times and locations were also outdoors, as our branches were just opening up to limited services and customers in the building. We also needed to keep our occupancy rates lower at the time, so we couldn’t get together.
Last year, many branches retained the take-out option and outdoor pickup locations, as is the case this year.
“In 2022, many of our branches are still opting for the take-out option for the same reason – not having a dedicated space for students to eat on site,” says Huston-Swanson. “Even though the state has somehow removed its waivers for partners to do the take-out option, Feeding America West Michigan has partnered with other sources of funding, so we are not bound by these government guidelines. for meal service. We can still provide the take-out option, so that’s what we’ve chosen to do in KDL.
Huston-Swanson says the program’s community impact has grown steadily. “Today, there are 15 branches participating this year, plus the Bibliobus, so 16 in total. Last year we served over 11,000 meals, and the year before it was closer to 10,000. Whether that’s just because of changing needs in our communities, or if it’s because we are more successful in communicating that we provide the lunches, I cannot draw a direct correlation.
As for the meals themselves, each free lunch includes a source of protein, a fruit/vegetable and a cereal. Previous meals have included options ranging from honey graham crackers with peanut butter, sunflower seeds, Craisins, string cheese, peaches, pears or cups of applesauce and 100% juice.
“We try to offer a main entree option, a nut-free option, and a vegetarian option, like hummus and flavored whole grain crackers,” says Huston-Swanson, “really good, well-balanced, nutritious meals.”
“We want all the calories kids bring into their system to count, so having them healthy, more whole grain options and more whole foods is always better than more empty calories they can get from other types of snack foods. ,” she says.
Meals are recommended for children 2 years and older, taking into account potential choking hazards. The program is scheduled to launch on June 6 and run Monday through Friday until August 12. Participating branches include Alpine Township, Byron Township, Comstock Park, Engelhardt, Gaines Township, Grandville, Kelloggsville, Kentwood, Rockford, Nelson Township, Plainfield Township, Spencer Township, Tyrone Township, Walker and Wyoming branches. Each branch has varying pick-up times and points for the program, so it is recommended to call the respective location for more detailed information.
Students or families do not have to register or RSVP in advance, they are welcome to simply drop by at branches. Huston-Swanson says all information will be updated on the KDL website by June 1, and there will be flyers and posters at specific attendance locations with more information.
“We always hope that we have a good impact in our communities and that we provide resources for needs like lunches,” she says. “We know that the need for free and reduced lunches is not going away or diminishing for many of our school systems. When students are not in school during the summer, those students are still food insecure, so being able to come to our libraries and have a nutritious meal is just another way to continue to meet those needs. . I hope this helps them trust us to fuel their spirits too, with the books, activities and programs we offer throughout the summer months.
Photos courtesy of Kent District Library
Literacy Matters is a series focused on the importance of knowledge, community resources seeking to break down barriers to access, and the value of our library systems to society. Literacy Matters is supported by Kent District Library.
Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. With her coverage of small business, arts and culture, restaurants and all things mitten, she’s committed to convincing everyone – just how great the Great Lakes State is. . Sarah earned her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her at a record store, at a local concert, or eating too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance she is not in any of these places, you can contact her at [email protected]