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Sarasota County Libraries as Health Promoters

What could be more important to health than having food to eat? 

“It surprises people to learn that many people in Sarasota County are going hungry,” says Sarabeth Kalajian, Director of Sarasota County Libraries

Enter the Campaign to End Summer Hunger.

Hunger and Food Insecurity in Sarasota County

Although Sarasota County’s median income is higher than Florida’s: 

  • 43% of households struggle to put enough food on the table.
  • 13% live in poverty.                                                           
  • 30% earn above the poverty line but below the county’s basic cost of living.
  • Nine neighborhoods qualify as food deserts.

In a survey of Title 1 school students, respondents’ top concerns were:

  • Eating only cheap foods.
  • Worrying that food might run out.
  • Food did run out before the family had enough money to buy more. 

Campaign to End Summer Hunger 

In summer 2015, Sarasota County Libraries, in partnership with All Faiths Food Bank, Sarasota County Schools and Gulf Coast Community Foundation, provided food in several ways.

  • Gave out 2,776 food backpacks for children and teens.
  • Served 1,188 free nutritious snacks, lunches or dinners during select events for kids and families.
  • Selby Library hosted a daily Lunch @ the Library, serving 932 hot meals in 48 days.

Sarasota County Libraries’ participation in the Campaign to End Summer Hunger was a huge hit.

  • The campaign helped feed more than 15,500 kids.
  • Each week, every library increased their food backpack request.
  • Next summer, Lunch @ the Library will expand to include North Port Library.

“The initiative began when people realized that approximately 50% of all Sarasota County students are eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program,” Kalajian says. “Those students received nutritious meals during the school year, but what about during the summer months?” 

She added that “public libraries are grateful for the opportunity to participate in support of children, teens and families in Sarasota County.” 

Photo of bowl of oatmeal

Other Health Services

Like many libraries, Sarasota County Libraries provide health-related programs to benefit the community. Yoga classes, an alternative health month, and assistance applying for ACA health insurance have been among their offerings for health-minded patrons.

Photographs © by Johnny Silvercloud (Hunger Games, top) and Rachel Hathaway (bottom), licensed under Creative Commons.

imls180.for.panel.jpgMany of these resources and programs are funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Florida's LSTA program is administered by the Department of State's Division of Library and Information Services.