Collection Highlights: WPA Nutritional Lunch Program

W.P.A. Nutritional Lunch Program, Kitchen, 1939. From the collection Foltz Photography Studio (Savannah, Ga.), photographs, 1899-1960, MS 160.

During the Great Depression, many Americans suffered from food insecurity including school children often lacking nutritional, filling meals during the day. This photo features a group of women working inside a kitchen in 1939, preparing meals for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Nutritional Lunch Program.

Roosevelt’s administration created the WPA in 1935, an initiative that created jobs in the public sector for the nation’s unemployed. The WPA Nutritional Lunch Program was both a welfare assistance program, providing hot lunches to schools, and a jobs program that employed people to prepare and deliver the food. Notice in the photograph the words “Traditional Lunches for Children” in the background!

A good lunch – one hot dish, meat, vegetables – sandwich – fruit – milk WPA school lunch. Oklahoma, 1936-1942. Photograph, LOC.

Further, the lunch program sourced its food from struggling farmers in a collaboration set up by the United States Department of Agriculture. In addition to school children, the Nutritional Lunch Program aided families struggling to feed themselves.

Though the Nutritional Lunch Program no longer exists today, its legacy lives on through a variety of government-led programs that provide meals to millions of school children through the nation’s public schools—even extending services into the non-school summer months and during periods of emergency such as the 2020 COVID-19 school closures.