In June, Mission Branch Library began its Lunch at the Library summer initiative, offering free lunches every weekday at noon to children under the age of 18, requiring no sign-ups, applications, income verification or identification. The program, which will continue until Aug. 2, aims to provide supplementary food to local residents throughout the summer months.
According to Library Program Coordinator Justin Wasterlain, the library staff saw the building’s 2018 renovation as the perfect opportunity to implement a number of changes, one being the lunch program.
“It’s a thing that we’ve wanted to do for a number of years,” said Wasterlain.
According to Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks, millions of children who rely on subsidized school lunches often experience summer hunger as families struggle to provide. Due to that, Wasterlain believes that one of the main goals for Lunch at the Library is to cover for those lost meals.
“A lot of kids, they get free lunch during the school year, but what do they do during the summer?” said Library Director Hillary Keith.
Aside from providing food services, Keith states that Lunch at the Library is also meant to act as an incentive for people — namely young students — to spend more time exploring Mission Branch Library’s many resources.
“Summer slide,” or the loss of academic skills when school is not in session, is something, in particular, that the library staff hopes to combat in the community. For example, families who come for the free meal also have the chance to participate in daily games, a summer reading program and multiple educational activities.
“I’m hoping [people] will realize the asset they have in this library,” Keith said. “It’s a community hub and we like to think of it as everyone’s ‘third place.’”
The success of Lunch at the Library at Mission Branch Library can be credited to support from Santa Clara Unified School District, the USDA Summer Food Service Program and the connections of District 25 Assemblymember Kansen Chu to Second Harvest Food Bank. Chu, who claims that student hunger is his first priority, has the strong belief that people in a well-off area should not go hungry.
“As we pour more and more money into education, I don’t believe that kids can learn on an empty stomach,” Chu said.
According to Keith and Wasterlain, the Mission Branch Library staff have plans to continue with Lunch at the Library past the 2019 summer, with Chu hoping that the program is able to “reach the most hard to reach families.”
Vincent Nguyen is a senior at Santa Clara High School and contributed this article to The Weekly.