Librarians are nourishing kids through Library Lunches to Go

Kids who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year can’t always access enough food at home in the summer. That’s why Feeding America West Michigan is running Library Lunches to Go in partnership with the Kent District Library (including fifteen locations and four Bookmobile stops). The program provides tasty, nutritious lunches every weekday to kids in need (through age 18) and neighbors who have special needs (through age 26).

All the meals are individually packaged by the food bank and served by librarians. Each meal is shelf-stable so they’re easy and safe for families to pick up on the go. The meal kits vary each day. The “nacho” meal kit, for example, includes whole grain corn chips, a vegetable salsa cup, a cheddar cheese cup, sunflower kernels, an applesauce pouch and juice. Other options include a chicken salad meal kit, sun butter and grahams meal kit and Mediterranean meal kit.

The library staff who run the program are passionate about meeting families’ needs — whether that’s through literature or lunches.

Abby, a KDL Wyoming Branch librarian, is serving kids summer meals for the third year in a row, but this year, she shared, it feels more personal.

“I went through a divorce over COVID. Now I’m a single-income family. I just applied for [SNAP] and WIC for the first time in my life.”

For Abby, mother of a 2-year-old and 5-year-old, it was hard to ask for help by applying for food assistance, even though she believes it’s worth it. She loves that Library Lunches to Go is “just offered,” no questions asked.

Abby and Adrianna both sit at a table outside the library that has meals wrapped in bags on it.
Abby and Adrianna serve meals to kids at the KDL Wyoming Branch.

Adrianna is another librarian at the Wyoming Branch. She, too, has personal experience receiving food support.

“I just think it’s really important to help people who would be going hungry or maybe not have the resources for their kids to have a well-balanced meal,” she said. “I was one of those kids. We went to food pantries, we had a WIC card, we had all of those things growing up — and it was the difference of me not eating that day or my mom not eating that day.”

In Kent City, a small town across the county from Wyoming, works Katie, a librarian who has always been interested in the social aspect of librarianship.

“The more I became aware of issues in the community, the more I became aware of hunger and lack of resources,” she said. “When I started working at the library, I would see kids with behavioral problems and wonder if it was related to the fact they didn’t eat since that morning.”

In Kent City, there isn’t a grocery store nearby, so Library Lunches to Go helps improve families’ access to nutritious food.

“We had several patrons say it makes things a little easier knowing they had it for their kids for lunch,” Katie said.

Katie the neighbors stands in front of a table full of food. She's holding a National Parks book. The Librarian Katie smiles from behind the table.
The two Katies both make sure their neighbors are fed.

Katie the librarian serves lunch almost daily to another Katie — a community member who leads a local Girl Scout chapter. She regularly stops at the library to pick up books and lunches for her two kids.

“The kids are home all day [right now], so they eat more!” she said.

She also picks up meals for a neighbor whose kids qualify to receive free or reduced-price lunch during the school year and whose house is often full of nieces and nephews as well. It can be hard for this family to travel to the library during lunchtime, so Katie is happy to do so for them.

Most of the Library Lunches to Go locations have regulars who stop by each day just to pick up lunch, while other parents appreciate having an easy lunch option for their kids while spending time at the library. Sabrina, a mom to two daughters, comes every Monday.

Two girls stand holding their meals.
Sabrina’s daughters, Bria and Lyla, receive lunch every week.

“It’s kind of our plan to check out books and grab lunches. We appreciate it,” she said. “It’s nice that they’re all packaged up and they’ve got a little bit of everything. [One of my daughters] has high fructose issues, so it’s great to see she can have the stuff that’s in there.”

We’re glad that our local libraries are partnering with us against hunger — providing their neighbors more than just great books, but access to needed resources as well. We look forward to continuing this partnership in the future. This summer’s program is sponsored in part by Subaru of America, Inc. and Belmont Engineered Plastics. Their generosity means so much to kids in our community — thank you!

Story written by Communication Specialist Juliana Ludema.