School vacation has emptied the Island of many families this week, but you’d hardly know it at the West Tisbury library when lunchtime rolls around.

“At one point [Monday], there were probably 40 or 50 people hanging out in the community room, getting soup or getting soup to go,” said library director Alexandra Pratt.

Every weekday through March 1, the library is serving a free soup and bread lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for schoolchildren on break and anyone else who needs a hot, wholesome midday meal.

Chef Deon Thomas gets the soup base cooking. — Ray Ewing

Island Grown Initiative also is providing vacation week lunches for pick-up only, but West Tisbury is the spot for in-person dining or casual take-out.

“We set up the community room with lots of chairs and tables,” Ms. Pratt said. “We encourage people to linger and hang out.”

The vegan, gluten-free soups — Wednesday’s was Mexican black bean — are prepared by Island chef Deon Thomas, who runs the restaurant at V.F.W. Post 9261 in Oak Bluffs and has cooked for visiting U.S. presidents.

Mr. Thomas was hired with funding from the West Tisbury Library Foundation and Friends of the West Tisbury Library, Ms. Pratt said, which also pays for fresh bread daily.

Water is available to drink, she said, and juice boxes are free from the library’s community refrigerator.

People sometimes bring cookies to the lunch, Ms. Pratt said. “It’s a really wonderful community potluck.”

Mr. Thomas prepares about 100 servings of soup each day, she said, with the goal of having more than enough for everyone.

“We aim for leftovers, and sending people home with leftovers or putting leftovers in the community fridge,” Ms. Pratt said.

Some days, however, the lunchtime turnout is large enough to empty the large tureens of soup.

“By one or 1:30, we’re scraping the bottom,” she said.

Along with free meals, the library is running a week-long scavenger hunt for kids and offering different fun things to do every day through Saturday.

Volunteer Evie Kreyling gets a bowl of soup ready. — Ray Ewing

“We have lots of crafts and activities,” Ms. Pratt said.

The vacation school lunch program began under previous library director Beth Kramer, she said. A longtime activist for Islanders’ equal access to good food, Ms. Kramer was an early member of the Vineyard’s informal food equity network when it formed in 2016. 

“Beth and the whole [library] team have always been on the cutting edge of responding to community needs. Food equity is a growing need,” said Ms. Pratt, who supervised the addition of the community refrigerator after succeeding Ms. Kramer in 2020.

To meet the demand year-round, the fridge is stocked weekly by a volunteer from the Good Shepherd Parish food program, with supplementary groceries gleaned from Cronig’s Market by other volunteers and other foods provided by Island Grown, Ms. Pratt said.

When supplies run low during the week, the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury drops off soups, she said.

Ms. Pratt made food equity the keynote of a speech she recently gave at a regional meeting of Cape and Islands library leaders with their legislative delegation, where she said Oak Bluffs library director Allyson Malik also spoke.

“There is no barrier to this access, no need of proof of income or need,” she said in the speech. “Food is available as needed, whether it’s a string cheese snack for a kid hanging out after school, a frozen meal for a senior without access to transportation to get to the supermarket, a fresh sandwich for someone living in their car, or an apple for a hangry kid at storytime. We hope this reduces the stigma of using the fridge, and other resources we and others provide.”