Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Lunch at the library: examination of a community-based approach to addressing summer food insecurity

  • Janine S Bruce (a1), Monica M De La Cruz (a1), Gala Moreno (a1) and Lisa J Chamberlain (a1)
Abstract Objective

To examine a library-based approach to addressing food insecurity through a child and adult summer meal programme. The study examines: (i) risk of household food insecurity among participants; (ii) perspectives on the library meal programme; and (iii) barriers to utilizing other community food resources.


Quantitative surveys with adult participants and qualitative semi-structured interviews with a sub-sample of adult participants.


Ten libraries using public and private funding to serve meals to children and adults for six to eight weeks in low-income Silicon Valley communities (California, USA) during summer 2015.


Adult survey participants (≥18 years) were recruited to obtain maximum capture, while a sub-sample of interview participants was recruited through maximum variation purposeful sampling.


Survey participants (n 161) were largely Latino (71 %) and Asian (23 %). Forty-one per cent of participants screened positive for risk of food insecurity in the past 12 months. A sub-sample of programme participants engaged in qualitative interviews (n 67). Interviewees reported appreciating the library’s child enrichment programmes, resources, and open and welcoming atmosphere. Provision of adult meals was described as building community among library patrons, neighbours and staff. Participants emphasized lack of awareness, misinformation about programmes, structural barriers (i.e. transportation), immigration fears and stigma as barriers to utilizing community food resources.


Food insecurity remains high in our study population. Public libraries are ideal locations for community-based meal programmes due to their welcoming and stigma-free environment. Libraries are well positioned to link individuals to other social services given their reputation as trusted community organizations.

Corresponding author
* Corresponding author: Email
Hide All
1. GundersenC (2013) Food insecurity is an ongoing national concern. Adv Nutr 4, 3641.
2. ObergCN (2011) The Great Recession’s impact on children. Matern Child Health J 15, 553554.
3. Coleman-JensenA, RabbittMP, GregoryCA et al. (2016) Household Food Security in the United States in 2015. Economic Research Report no. ERR-215. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service; available at
4. AlaimoK, BriefelRR, FrongilloEAJr et al. (1998) Food insufficiency exists in the United States: results from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Am J Public Health 88, 419426.
5. Coleman-JensenA, McFallW & NordM (2013) Food Insecurity in Households with Children: Prevalence, Severity, and Household Characteristics, 2010–2011. Economic Information Bulletin no. EIB-113. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service; available at
6. ChiltonM, BlackMM, BerkowitzC, CaseyPH et al. (2009) Food insecurity and risk of poor health among US-born children of immigrants. Am J Public Health 99, 556562.
7. GittermanBA, ChiltonLA, CottonWH et al. (2015) Promoting food security for all children. Pediatrics 136, e1431e1438.
8. DefeyterMA, GrahamPL & RussoR (2015) More than just a meal: breakfast club attendance and children’s social relationships. Front Public Health 3, 183.
9. GundersenC & ZiliakJP (2014) Childhood food insecurity in the US: trends, causes, and policy options. Future Child 24, 119.
10. BartfeldJ (2013) SNAP and the School Meal Program. University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research Discussion Paper Series no. 19. (accessed February 2017).
11. RoseD (1999) Economic determinants and dietary consequences of food insecurity in the United States. J Nutr 129, 2S Suppl., 517S520S.
12. RoseD & OliveiraV (1997) Nutrient intakes of individuals from food-insufficient households in the United States. Am J Public Health 87, 19561961.
13. PollittE (1988) Developmental impact of nutrition on pregnancy, infancy, and childhood: public health issues in the United States. Int Rev Res Mental Retard 15, 3380.
14. LozoffB, JimenezE, HagenJ et al. (2000) Poorer behavioral and developmental outcome more than 10 years after treatment for iron deficiency in infancy. Pediatrics 105, e51.
15. Rose-JacobsR, BlackMM, CaseyPH et al. (2008) Household food insecurity: associations with at-risk infant and toddler development. Pediatrics 121, 6572.
16. MurphyJM, WehlerCA, PaganoME et al. (1998) Relationship between hunger and psychosocial functioning in low-income American children. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 37, 163170.
17. AlaimoK, OlsonCM, FrongilloEAJr et al. (2001) Food insufficiency, family income, and health in US preschool and school-aged children. Am J Public Health 91, 781786.
18. CookJT, FrankDA, BerkowitzC et al. (2004) Food insecurity is associated with adverse health outcomes among human infants and toddlers. J Nutr 134, 14321438.
19. StuffJE, CaseyPH, SzetoKL et al. (2004) Household food insecurity is associated with adult health status. J Nutr 134, 23302335.
20. MillsG & HansonK (2013) Coping Strategies for Households at Risk of Childhood Hunger: Final Report submitted to the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
21. WhitakerRC, PhillipsSM & OrzolSM (2006) Food insecurity and the risks of depression and anxiety in mothers and behavior problems in their preschool-aged children. Pediatrics 118, e859e868.
22. ChiltonM & BoothS (2007) Hunger of the body and hunger of the mind: African American women’s perceptions of food insecurity, health and violence. J Nutr Educ Behav 39, 116125.
23. PettersonSM & AlbersAB (2001) Effects of poverty and maternal depression on early child development. Child Dev 72, 17941813.
24. GundersenC, KreiderB & PepperJ (2012) The impact of the National School Lunch Program on child health: a nonparametric bounds analysis. J Econom 166, 7991.
25. GundersenC & Ver PloegM (2015) Food assistance programs and child health. Future Child 25, 91109.
26. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service (2016) National School Lunch Program (NSLP). (accessed December 2016).
27. NordM & RomigK (2006) Hunger in the summer: seasonal food insecurity and the National School Lunch and Summer Food Service programs. J Child Poverty 12, 141158.
28. US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service (2013) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). (accessed June 2016).
29. BookeyJL (2015) 8 awesome ways libraries are making learning fun. The Huffington Post, 29 June. (accessed February 2017).
30. Rooney-BrowneC (2009) Rising to the challenge: a look at the role of public libraries in times of recession. Libr Rev 58, 341352.
31. VeilSR & BishopBW (2014) Opportunities and challenges for public libraries to enhance community resilience. Risk Anal 34, 721734.
32. JaegerPT & FleischmannKR (2007) Public libraries, values, trust, and e-government. Inform Technol Libr 26, 3443.
33. Food Action Research Center (2016) Facts for Libraries: participating in summer and afterschool meals. (accessed June 2016).
34. IshuzukaK (2014) Libraries needed to host summer meal programs. Here’s how to help. School Library Journal, 7 July. (accessed February 2017).
35. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research (2013) CHIS 2013–2014 Questionnaires. (accessed April 2015).
36. HagerER, QuiggAM, BlackMM et al. (2010) Development and validity of a 2-item screen to identify families at risk for food insecurity. Pediatrics 126, e26e32.
37. PattonM (1990) Purposeful sampling. Qual Eval Res Method 2, 169186.
38. FonteynME, VetteseM, LancasterDR et al. (2008) Developing a codebook to guide content analysis of expressive writing transcripts. Appl Nurs Res 21, 165168.
39. BertrandJT, BrownJE & WardVM (1992) Techniques for analyzing focus group data. Eval Rev 16, 198209.
40. KruegerRA (1994) Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc., pp. 232235.
41. RyanGW & BernardHR (2003) Techniques to identify themes. Field Method 15, 85109.
42. FeredayJ & Muir-CochraneE (2006) Demonstrating rigor using thematic analysis: a hybrid approach of inductive and deductive coding and theme development. Int J Qual Method 5, 8092.
43. MalterudK (2001) Qualitative research: standards, challenges, and guidelines. Lancet 358, 483488.
44. KirkpatrickSI & TarasukV (2007) Adequacy of food spending is related to housing expenditures among lower-income Canadian households. Public Health Nutr 10, 14641473.
45. NordM & KantorLS (2006) Seasonal variation in food insecurity is associated with heating and cooling costs among low-income elderly Americans. J Nutr 136, 29392944.
46. HanrattyMJ (2006) Has the Food Stamp Program become more accessible? Impacts of recent changes in reporting requirements and asset eligibility limits. J Policy Anal Manage 25, 603621.
47. SchanzenbachDW (2009) Experimental Estimates of the Barriers to Food Stamp Enrollment. Madison, WI: Institute for Research on Poverty.
48. HerdP (2015) How administrative burdens are preventing access to critical income supports for older adults: the case of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Public Policy Aging Rep 25, 5255.
49. RatcliffeC, McKernanS-M & FinegoldK (2007) The Effect of State Food Stamp and TANF Policies on Food Stamp Program Participation. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
50. FixME & PasselJS (1999) Trends in Noncitizens’ and Citizen’s Use of Public Benefits Following Welfare Reform, 1994–97. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
51. KaushalN, WaldfogelJ & WightV (2013) Food insecurity and SNAP participation in Mexican immigrant families: the impact of the outreach initiative. B E J Econom Anal Policy 14, 203240.
52. Ng’anduJ & Leal GianfortoniEM (2006) Sin Provecho: Latinos and Food Insecurity. NCLR Nutrition Report 2006. (accessed February 2017).
53. US Citizenship and Immigrant Services & Institute of Museum and Library Services (2005) Library Services for Immigrants: A Report on Current Practices. of Citizenship/Citizenship Resource Center Site/Publications/G-1112.pdf (accessed June 2016).
54. BurkeSK (2008) Use of public libraries by immigrants. Ref User Serv Q 48, 164174.
55. KayeL, LeeE & ChenYY (2013) Barriers to food stamps in New York State: a perspective from the field. J Poverty 17, 1328.
56. BartlettS, BursteinN & HamiltonW (2004) Food Stamp Program Access Study: Eligible Nonparticipants. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service; available at
57. LuoL, EstreicherD, LeePA et al. (2012) Social workers in the library: an innovative approach to address library patrons’ social service needs. Qual Quant Method Libr 1, 7382.
58. LevedahlJW (1995) How much can informational outreach programs increase food stamp program participation? Am J Agric Econ 77, 343352.
59. ZhuL & XuP (2015) The politics of welfare exclusion: immigration and disparity in Medicaid coverage. Policy Stud J 43, 456483.
60. WatsonT (2014) Inside the refrigerator: immigration enforcement and chilling effects in Medicaid participation. Am Econ J Econ Policy 6, 313338.
61. FeinbergS & SchullDD (2001) Family place libraries: transforming public libraries to serve very young children and their families. Zero Three 21, 47.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Public Health Nutrition
  • ISSN: 1368-9800
  • EISSN: 1475-2727
  • URL: /core/journals/public-health-nutrition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 80
Total number of PDF views: 200 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 863 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 20th March 2017 - 23rd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.