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Summer Challenge: Combatting Book and Food Deserts

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Summer Challenge: Combatting Book and Food Deserts

Fresno County Public Library, Calif.

Education - Children & Adults | 2018

Innovation Synopsis

Fresno County Public Library revised its traditional summer reading program to better meet survival needs of children and teens. Fresno County has a 25.2 percent poverty rate, and 59 percent of local third graders are not reading at grade-level. FCPL abandoned past practices to offer a more relevant Summer Challenge that meets crucial community needs.


Fresno County is plagued with book deserts and food deserts, pockets of poverty where youth often fall prey to the Summer Slide. Without books in the home, children are more likely to experience summer learning loss and return to school behind their peers. Over 70 percent also experience food insecurities, relying on free or reduced-cost meals at school to stay healthy. Proper nutrition is essential all year for children to stay active and motivated to learn.

Key Elements of Innovation

The Programming Department held a visioning meeting with branch staff to imagine a successful, relevant countywide program. Traditional prizes of inexpensive toys and fast food coupons were abandoned in favor of free books as incentives to combat book deserts. Staff took the Summer Challenge on the road to public housing sites, offering free books and entertainment while registering families for library cards. Lunch @ the Library continued at select branches to also combat food deserts.

Achieved Outcomes

FCPL better supports healthy minds and healthy bodies for all county youth while combatting the Summer Slide both onsite and beyond library walls in underserved communities. Achieved outcomes are increased access to books and proper nutrition for children and teens, increased relevancy and impact of the Summer Challenge in the community, and reduced summer learning loss for local youth. In 2017, over 13,000 youth participated in the program, and over 7,000 free meals were served.