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City launches youth summer meals program

News Source: Philadelphia Tribune

Children across the Delaware Valley can tap into free meals throughout the summer.

The city of Philadelphia has launched its 2014 summer meals program and the opening of more than 800 summer meal sites, which provide free and healthy breakfast, lunches and snacks to thousands of Philadelphians ages 18 and younger every Monday through August 29.

“Making sure our young people have nutritious, satisfying meals daily is critical to ensuring kids are safe and healthy during the summer months,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter.

“Unfortunately, less than half of the students who receive free or discounted lunches during the school year participate in the summer meals program. This means that thousands of students are potentially living without access to proper meals while they are out of school. Through the summer meals program we are working to end childhood hunger in Philadelphia. In 2013 alone, more than 2.8 million meals were distributed and I know we can provide even more meals this year. There are many safe spaces for young people to receive a free meal in every neighborhood this summer.”

The meal sites are located at a variety of public places including recreation centers, schools, churches and community centers. Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PP&R) also hosts Playstreets, which are designated city blocks closed to traffic that provide free meals and programming to young people throughout Philadelphia.

“Instilling healthy eating habits in our children at an early age will help them live long, healthy and productive lives,” said Susan Slawson, first deputy for recreation and programs.

“We are proud of our healthy eating programs. Providing opportunities for healthy eating is just as important as the numerous recreational and educational programs we provide to the youth.”

The summer meals program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. Meal sites, coordinated by PP&R, are hosted across the city through partnerships with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Nutritional Development Services, the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) and others.

PHA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) will run now through August 22 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. SFSP will be held at 20 PHA sites throughout the city and provide 35 part-time jobs for PHA clients and local residents.

“The Summer Food Service Program is a necessity for families in Philadelphia, in part because it takes the place of the school lunch program,” said PHA president and CEO Kelvin A. Jeremiah.

“We believe it’s important that our young people have access to good, nutritional meals that are critical for healthy growth and development. No child should ever have to go hungry in this city and that is why PHA is pleased to sponsor this program by contributing over $200,000 of its own funds to this effort.”

The roll out of the summer food program comes as a new report found that fewer kids in the Delaware Valley have access to summer meal programs. The report by the Food Research and Action Center titled “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation” indicates that one in six children in need benefit from summer meal programs in the state. Summer meals reached only 18.7 students for every 100 low-income children who received school meals in the 2012-2013 school year. This is a decline from the summer of 2012, when summer meals were reaching 20.3 out of every 100 children in low-income households who rely on school meals.

There are more than 300,000 children in the Delaware Valley who are eligible for free and reduced meals in school. Research indicates that children consume up to 50 percent of their total daily caloric intake through school meals. Thousands of families can’t afford to buy additional food needed for the meals their kids need in the summer.

Philabundance, the Delaware Valley’s largest hunger relief organization, is gearing up to provide more food to families with children this summer.

“It’s often said that the three happiest words a mother can hear is ‘I love you,’ but in far too many homes this summer, the three most gut-wrenching words a mother will hear is ‘What’s for dinner or lunch,’” said Bill Clark, president and executive director of Philabundance.

“More families are struggling to make ends meet and the additional meals required to feed their children in the summer months lead to more stress and missed meals.”

Philabundance will also be doing summer food distributions through the KidsBites initiative. Summer food distributions will happen twice a month on the second and fourth Wednesday at Stetser Elementary in Chester. Two Thursday monthly food distributions will occur July 17 and August 21 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Lowell Elementary School in the Olney section of Philadelphia.

For information about summer meal sites visit www.pasummermeals.com or call the Pennsylvania Department of Education at (717) 783-6501.

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