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Lunch at The Library delivers sandwiches and smiles
Jenna Flannery’s boys ask the same question nearly every day. “Can we get lunch at The Library?”
As much as possible, the answer is yes.
“We often get out in the morning to see friends, explore creeks, and go swimming,” said Flannery, the mother of four boys ages 10, 8, 6, and 3. “I am happy to drop by The Library to grab packed lunches before heading home for the afternoon. We drive to a nearby shaded area, and they enjoy their lunches outside on a blanket. They absolutely look forward to this!”
Since its debut in 2018, the Dauphin County Library System’s Lunch at the Library has grown into a popular offering, helping promote proper nutrition for local children and giving parents a reliable source of summertime meals.
The Library offers the program, funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, in collaboration with the Central Penn Food Bank and Dauphin County Technical School, which supplies all the lunches.
Mondays or Tuesdays through Thursday, children up to age 18 can get a free lunch – usually a sandwich, fruit, and chocolate milk – and on Fridays, they get snacks. Crafts are offered, too, by providing materials for projects such as origami or animal masks. (Find the schedule at dcls.org/lunch.)
The program, which serves about 3,800 lunches per summer, originated at Madeline L. Olewine Memorial Library, where staff noticed that some children were spending entire days at The Library.
“It was a perceived need in the community,” said Youth Services Administrator Hannah Killian. “Libraries have started to be that ‘second responder,’ there for those who are in need. It was just another way to serve the kids.”
Jenna Flannery, of Dauphin, discovered the program last year when she and her boys were browsing in the children's area of their home library, East Shore Area Library. As they were checking out their books, the librarian encouraged her to head downstairs for lunch, “and I am so glad she did!” said Flannery.
“What's not to like?” she added. “The boys are given nutritious and delicious lunches to enjoy, along with a craft.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, this summer’s lunch program moved to curbside service. Retired teacher Linda Walker started volunteering for The Library as soon as she moved to the area from Montgomery County in March 2020 because “one of my favorite things to do is be involved with young people.”
The Library put her to work with Curbside Lunch at the Library on Mondays and Tuesdays at East Shore Area Library. As cars pull into the parking lot, she asks each driver how many lunches are needed and whether the kids want a craft.
“Then I trot my little self back and pick the lunches out of the cooler,” she says. “Now I know some of these kids just by looking at them. They’re excited and wave and are happy to be there. It gives them a release, too, not being cooped up.”
One 15-year-old regularly picks up lunches for his siblings, “and he is the sweetest kid there,” says Walker. “The people are so appreciative. It is so pleasant to be there. They always thank you, and they’re so happy.”
Flannery’s boys love the Smucker’s Uncrustables PBJ sandwiches and the gummy snacks. “As a mom, I appreciate the fruit and vegetables included,” she added. Lunch at the Library is just one way that her family benefits from The Library.
“We are frequent borrowers of Library materials,” she said. “I appreciate the ability to place items on hold and have them brought out to my van when they are ready. We are so grateful for the Summer Lunch Program!”