Any youth, from infants through 18 years old, who need a lunch this summer will have a new place to grab one: the Taneytown branch of the Carroll County Public Library.
While numerous locations in Carroll, including schools and churches, have offered free meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program for years, this will be the first time a library has hosted the program.
“This is the first time in Carroll County as far as I know and I have been with the library for 10 years,” said Renee Brown, children’s services supervisor at the Taneytown branch. “We are kind of piloting it, and we are very excited.”
The lunches will be served from noon to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday beginning Monday June 24 and running through Aug. 30, according to Brown. There is no sign-up or any sort of qualification required, she said; people can just show up.
“Because they don’t have to apply for anything, this is not stigmatized,” Brown said. “It is open to anybody who comes into the branch that’s in that age range.”
There will also be swap table for children who decided they would like to trade food items not to their liking, according to Brown.
“If they don’t like applesauce and they would like something else, they can swap it out, no questions asked,” she said. “We are going to be starting out with shelf stable meals instead of hot meals in the beginning just to evaluate what is involved. And we will have a cooler at the library to keep the milk and things cold in.”
Brown hit on the idea of offering a free lunch at the library after participating in a webinar about California libraries that had participated in the program and seen dramatically larger participation than at other free meal sites.
“In a small Californian community, the library had six to eight times as many people because there are other things happening,” she said. “I talked with the (Taneytown) branch manager Jillian Dittrich, and she was instantly on board.”
They then began speaking with Karen Sarno, supervisor of food services for the school system, back in February.
“We contacted the school and set this up,” Brown said. “They were delighted.”
It is the school system, and Sarno in particular, that coordinates the USDA’s summer food service program in Carroll County, which is designed to get food to children who might qualify for free or reduced lunches during the school year.
“In Carroll County we have one out of every five, or about 20% of the kids are eligible for free or reduced meals,” she said.
The USDA has different requirements for a location or program to qualify to offer free meals to any child that shows up, Sarno said, and other locations this summer will include Taneytown and Robert Moton elementary schools and Trinity Lutheran Church.
The Taneytown branch is the only library branch that qualifies to offer such a program, Sarno said, but it has something that many of the other locations do not: built-in reasons for children to want to head there in the summer in the first place.
“It really is the programming that draws the kids,” she said. “The library is a nice partner because they are going to give that piece.”
It’s all of those things a library can provide that Brown believes allowed those California libraries to see so many more children attending the free meals than had other sites.
“We have computers, we have programs,” she said. “We’re going to be having a discovery time setup Monday through Thursday, which will have things the kids can explore and play with, technology and STEM type of things.”
And while it is the first year for the program at the library and Brown will not head into Monday with any expectations, she did say she’s already been getting a lot of positive feedback.
“The community seems very excited, I’ve had a lot of positive response, especially from community stakeholders who maybe were already were familiar with the free and reduced lunch program,” she said. “I’ve had a lots of people asking at the branch when they come with kids for story time.”