November Poll Results: Health and Nutrition Programs and Resources

Jennifer Peterson /

With the holiday season approaching, WebJunction’s November poll reached out to Crossroads readers to learn about how you are helping to nourish patron bodies as well as minds.

Nearly 60 different libraries and state library agencies told us what they’re currently doing for nutritional assistance and healthy eating programs. Looking at the roundup of the answers below, you can see there are many exciting initiatives taking place! A number shared similar experiences and programs through your open responses, so we’ve summarized these where possible. We’ve also highlighted some of the unique offerings that were mentioned.

We asked: Indicate which of these services or programs your library currently provides or that you hope to provide in the future. And here is a summary of the responses we received.

Community partnerships making a difference

A good number of respondents have found ways to grow community partnerships to creatively meet practical challenges they encounter. Some libraries told us they serve food through Meals on Wheels, or other nutritional assistance programs such as the USDA’s summer lunch programs (see Lunch at the Library, for example) – often with help from their county schools. Many of these libraries make sure they meet their local county health department’s guidelines by using a community partner with a commercial kitchen, or by ensuring that all snacks served are commercially wrapped.

Healthy eating workshops and classes

Many respondents are actively promoting health literacy and nutritional programming through interactive demonstrations and classes. One library offers a healthy breakfast workshop to its Girl Power group that teaches why healthy breakfast is important, and gives ideas on how to make their own – they even build themselves a "breakfast banana split" to enjoy during the program. Another library has a Cooking Up Literacy program for children where kids learn how to make healthy snacks. And one library hosted a Gluten Free Cooking workshop with an outing to the local supermarket for a tour of GF foods.

Highlights of other practical and creative programs

“Every October we do a ‘Place at the Table’ series, once a week programs that highlight local food issues and opportunities. The series culminates with a Community Picnic event celebrating National Food Day. We partner with our local university nutrition program, the county health department and local growers.”

“We have a community produce exchange stand in the summer. Patrons and staff bring in excess bounty from their gardens and others are free to take what they want. The stand is located in our lobby.”

“As a state agency, we provide statewide databases to all residents. We have offered database workshops in the form of webinars (both live and archived) on planning holiday meals and recipes, as well as how to stay healthy over the holidays. We also provide grants where libraries can focus on wellness and spend grant money to partner with other agencies and local groups, create kits of materials, provide speakers on the above topics, etc.”

"We partner with the Northern Kentucky Health District to educate our customers on 5-2-1-0 (To significantly reduce childhood obesity). We are part of the awareness campaign, as well as programs for parents. In addition we partner with our local food pantry to bring the Mobile Foodbank to one of our locations."

Looking toward the future

Participants in November’s poll also gave us a good idea of what they’re not planning on offering, as well as what they’d like to be able to do in the future.

Providing nutritional assistance is often seen as problematic

Nutritional assistance programs – such as backpacks for hungry kids to take home over the weekends, or offering summer lunches – were most often cited as being programs that libraries weren’t planning on implementing. As one respondent mentioned, “We don't have facilities to cook/warm up/clean up/serve/store ‘lunch,’ or other food programs.” The practical challenges of infrastructure, meeting health department regulations, and limited staffing often make this kind of programming difficult.

Healthy eating and cooking classes: Yes please! (And make it local)

At the top of the wishlist, healthy eating and cooking classes, followed by partnering with local farms or farmers markets. One library’s already cooking up new ideas: “There is a community garden in our community. We have thought of doing a seed exchange and perhaps we could work with the local garden group on this project.”

In looking at the full list services that libraries would like to provide in the future, here are the responses in order:

  1. Healthy eating and cooking classes/demonstrations
  2. Partner with local food pantry for nutritional workshops/programs
  3. Partner with local farms or farmers markets
  4. Community garden at the library
  5. Gardening classes
  6. Family health and wellness information during storytime
  7. Nutritional assistance in the form of snacks
  8. Access to reliable online health and nutrition information
  9. Food for Fines (library fines forgiven with non-perishable donations)
  10. Weekend hunger backpacks
  11. Assist patrons to sign up for SNAP and other assistance programs
  12. Summer lunch program

We look forward to hearing how you continue to grow your existing programs to help feed your community members’ bodies as well as their minds. If you’re inspired to launch a new initiative, or if you have a great program you’re currently running that you’d like us to know about, please share; the poll is still open!