Learning to Love Hummus at the Library

After school snack program fighting child and teen hunger.

Groups of kids happily ripping into their snack packs at the Marmalade Branch.

Every weekday, The City Library’s Glendale Branch, Marmalade Branch, and Main Library host Kids’ Café, an after-school meal program. Originally, it was conceived as a way to give children and teens tasty, accessible food during the nutrition gap that exists during out-of-school hours. But, as the librarians at Glendale discovered, food was just the beginning.

The facts of youth hunger, especially its impact on teenagers from lower-income families, are cause for action. In their 2016 report, “Impossible Choices,” The Urban Institute and Feeding America noted that while elementary-aged kids are able to access food through school programs, teens have fewer community resources and often feel pressure to feed not only themselves but also their families.

The contents of a snack pack at the Main Library — the items inside differ depending on the day.

These pressures are exactly what the Kids’ Café hopes to prevent. Last year, the Utah Food Bank used this program to provide 326,080 meals at schools and community centers.

Now, in partnering with the Library — a place where kids and teens already hang out — Kids’ Cafés create a free-wheeling, snack happy clubhouse that’s fun for everyone in the neighborhood.

Children’s Librarian, Scott Bahlmann hands out the highly requested chocolate milk at the Glendale Branch.

On a Tuesday afternoon at the Glendale Branch, the back room is loud. Inside, it feels a little like a house party, except instead of noshing on a bowl of stale chips, kids and teens each grab a meal pack that might include applesauce, a sandwich, and a bag of sunflower seeds. They leave anything they don’t want in a “share bowl” for others to claim. Popular picks? Ham-and-cheese sandwiches, cheese sticks, and nacho cheese are promptly devoured, while raisins and hummus are viewed with suspicion. After draining their boxes of icy milk, kids head off to pick out tunes on a piano, play board games, or sign up for a session on the computers.

Kids learning how to play board games like Clue after finishing their snack packs at the Marmalade Branch.

On most days, the Glendale Branch serves anywhere from 30–80 kids and teens and has become one of the neighborhood’s most popular after-school hangouts. Teen Librarian Katie Thompson sees the Kids’ Café as an opportunity to make connections. While serving up juice and sandwiches, she says, “I became a trusted adult in their lives.” Through those relationships, she has connected kids and teens to library programs and resources, even creating accounts for those who had never had a card before.

“The kids and teens that come know they can hang out, watch some Bill Nye, and get a tasty snack,” says Christina Walsh, Teen Services Coordinator (left). Katie Thompson, Teen Librarian (right).

Seeing the success of the Glendale Branch’s program, the Main Library and Marmalade Branch recently began hosting Kids’ Cafés as well. On a Friday at Marmalade, it seemed like the whole neighborhood had come to relax: a student from West High School fed her nephew crackers, a dad cajoled his son to sample some Craisins (the preschooler ate two), and a crowd of middle-schoolers wolfed down their food in order to play a round of Luigi’s Mansion at the video game station set up just a few feet away.

For those who come, the Kids’ Café is a place to grab something to eat, chill out with friends and family, and maybe even make a connection. And those unloved Glendale raisins? They were rescued by mom-of-two Sarah Robinson, who baked them into a batch of thank-you muffins for Library staff.

Children’s Librarian, Scott Bahlmann convincing teens that hummus actually does taste good!

* * Families with children and anyone 18 and under are welcome to enjoy a snack at all three locations:

Glendale Branch: Mon–Fri, 4pm–4:30pm

Main Library : Mon–Fri, 3:30pm–4pm

Marmalade Branch: Mon–Fri, 3:30pm–4pm

The Kids’ Café program is hosted in partnership with The City Library; Volunteers of America, Utah; Utahns Against Hunger; and the Utah Food Bank.