For the fifth consecutive summer, my library will serve as a summer meal location to provide free, healthy, boxed meals for children over the summer. We provide this service from the Dundee Library, our main location in East Dundee. The meals are distributed to all kids 18 and under and are paid for by the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federally funded program managed by the USDA and operated by the Illinois State Board of Education in conjunction with the Northern Illinois Food Bank, who prepares and delivers the meals.
For the first three years, the rules of the program were that the kids had to eat their meals on site. Our model of service has changed since the pandemic, and we now offer the meals for curbside pickup. The main goal in taking this on was to fill a need in our community, of course. But it has also provided public-relations-type benefits for the library.
Publicity. Hosting Summer Meals helps get our name out in the community. A press release results in local newspaper articles. Since we serve nine different villages, information about the program is included in their eNewsletters and on street message boards. Our social media posts about Summer Meals are some of the most shared all year.
Community Partnerships. We have created and strengthened relationships with other community organizations. We have welcomed local child and family service agencies to host a table at in-person lunches to promote things like preschool and health and wellness services. A food pantry in our district has donated snack bags to pass out with our curbside meals. In turn, these organizations promote our summer meal program and worked with us on other reciprocal opportunities throughout the year.
Outreach. When the meals were served in person at the library, we arranged to welcome a bus load of kids from a local church summer camp three days a week. We encouraged them to then stay at the library for a while after and provided and hours’ worth of crafts and activities for the days they visited. Last summer, we took a supply of meals on the road and distributed them five days a week to kids in two apartment complexes in our district. The amazing part was when, at a back-to-school fair put on by our school district, many of those kids stopped by our booth to say hi because they had gotten to know our staff during the summer.
Local business support. Local businesses stepped up to help us carry out the summer meals program. One donated a refrigerator for meal storage, and others allowed their employees to volunteer during work time to help run the in-person meal hours.
When you get people together, they usually find common ground. By finding a way to support the children in our district, we found more ways to connect with those who have like-minded aspirations. And then we all found ways to help each other.