More than 40,000 children in Allegheny County public schools get free lunches through the National School Lunch Program, leaving a large swath of county children vulnerable to hunger once the school year ends.
To help prevent children from suffering from hunger during the summer months, Allegheny County Department of Human Services is sponsoring more than 80 sites throughout the county to participate in the Summer Food Service Program, a federally funded program that provides free breakfast and lunch to children under 18 years of age as well as eligible individuals with disabilities. The sites opened for the summer on June 9 and will provide free meals through Aug.15, 2014.
“Summer Food is food that’s in when school is out. It ensures a nutritious meal can be served when school cafeterias are closed for the summer,” says Sally Petrilli, service administrator for DHS Office of Community Services.
Petrilli adds that while many low-income families also receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), these benefits “can only be stretched so far for some families and Summer Food allows those families in need to focus on dinner and weekend meals, easing the burden a bit.”
Last year, 137,000 meals were served through Summer Food. To help encourage higher participation, Petrilli says the DHS-sponsored sites also offer recreational activities. This effort is especially important in light of a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center that shows only 18.7 percent of students who received free lunches in 2013 also participated in free summer meal programs.
“Recreation options bring more children to participate and receive a meal,” she says. “This year Allegheny County Parks will host basketball mini camps at some of the sites. Allegheny County Department of Human Services will also provide arts and crafts materials and sports equipment like soccer balls.”
More information about the DHS-sponsored Summer Food Service Program sites can be found at www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/food.aspx