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Last updated: 9/19/17

Lunch on the Lawn

This summer, we brought a youth summer meals site to City Hall Plaza for the first time.

We offered nutritious lunches to young people 18 and under. The program ran every weekday, 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m., from July - August in 2017. Through the program, we worked with:

Why we did this

With Lunch on the Lawn, we continued our efforts to make City Hall Plaza a welcoming space for all Bostonians. We wanted the young people living, visiting, and working in downtown Boston to have easy access to nutritious food during the summer.

The experiment

Our hypothesis? For young people in the City’s Summer Jobs program, access to a free lunch would help their paycheck go further. And, for children passing by with their families, a free lunch at City Hall Plaza could extend their enjoyment of a great summer day in Boston.


We worked with each department at City Hall that hires youth employees for the summer. We wanted them to spread the word among their youth employees. We also partnered with the Boston Private Industry Council to inform more than 3,000 students at Agganis Arena during their summer jobs orientation.

The MBTA put up signs in Government Center and State Street T stations about the program. Our site was also advertised in the Metro newspaper, along with the other more than 120 open sites around the City sponsored by Boston Public Schools. Our summer fellows also helped. They walked around the Plaza with a large sign, inviting kids to grab a lunch and enjoy the games and picnic tables on the Plaza.


The meals were free to all young people 18 or under without any registration or ID required. But, we thought there might be some stigma associated with a free meal program. To reduce that barrier, we had a rotating series of programs:

  1. We brought out art supplies for children to make us fridge art.
  2. We held two “VR Days,” highlighting some of the Imagine Boston 2030 launch party 360-degree videos on virtual reality headsets.
  3. We continued our Love Letters to Boston experiment. This experiment asks people to write about where they like to go in Boston to relax, or when they’re feeling happy.
  4. In the last three weeks of the program, we ran a mini-experiment with fun stickers (spoiler alert: it was a hit!).
  5. Finally, we partnered with many agencies to bring their activities down to Lunch on the Lawn, including ReadBoston, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

Results and lessons learned


We served more than 1000 meals to young people under 18. Yet, we talked with an even larger group of people than that. Many had never heard about the citywide summer meals program, though there are more than 100 sites throughout Boston neighborhoods each summer.

Youth groups came through City Hall Plaza on their way to take a tour of City Hall. Nearby day care centers walked by with younger kids in buddy lines, enjoying their afternoon stroll on the plaza. Families from out of town came by on their way to or from historic Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. During the summer, we talked with over 5,000 people.

As we reflect on this program and others on City Hall Plaza, we want to continue asking ourselves how to make the space welcoming to all. We want to connect young people to the space, and build relationships that last generations.


There was one audience we weren’t planning for, but ended up being a frequent diner with us. The group was young children coming into City Hall with their families to take care of some personal business, like paying a parking ticket or taxes. This seemingly negative interaction with City government turned into a pleasant, helpful one.

We saw countless families grab meals for their children on their way out of City Hall. They would then sit at the picnic tables, enjoying the weather and the games on the lawn. We know that “breaking bread” helps people build community and relationships — perhaps with your City government, too?


Many times, we were able to offer two or three lunch options. It was clear that younger children enjoyed the sense of control they felt in choosing what to eat. For older youth, we were able to accommodate a wider variety of dietary preferences.

When we introduced stickers at the fridge, young children loved being able to select the sticker that most delighted them. Lunch on the Lawn seemed to help change people’s minds about what kind of (positive) experiences they might expect from their interactions with City Hall.

Watch: Learn about Lunch on the Lawn