Helping Feed Children in Allentown, Pennsylvania
By Jarrett Gayl, Associate Director of Food Service, Lehigh Valley Health Network, Allentown, Pa.
It’s hard to imagine not having enough to eat. So, when Morrison and Lehigh Valley Health Network took over a state-funded program this summer to feed children that attend nearby schools in Allentown, it hit home for me.
I live on 17th street in Allentown, not far from the hospital and our breakfast cook, Malynda Mason has lived on 15th street her entire life. This is our community and we understand its struggle with poverty and feeding its youth. The poverty rate in Allentown is approximately 27 percent, much higher than the national average of 13 percent.
It’s personal, too. I’m from outside of Philadelphia, and during my early childhood, my mother worked two jobs and needed government assistance at times to enable us to buy food. So being able to help children facing a similar situation is extremely satisfying.
Starting in mid-June we began providing 25 meals each day, Monday through Friday. Once the meals are prepared in our kitchens, we walk across the street to the School of Nursing and hand bags of food to each child. Most of them are in elementary or middle school. Once each car pulls up, one of them jumps from the car, grabs their bags, says ‘thank you’, and returns.
Because of the COVID-19 virus, we hand out the meals at curbside and don’t get to interact much with the parents or children. But we get to see their faces. There is one foster parent who travels here with the six children under her care. It’s a bit hectic for her, but it’s fun to watch the kids grab their meals.
Fortunately, we have a reasonable budget that enables us to provide healthy, nutritious meals. The sandwiches are provided by one of our vendors and are individually wrapped to minimize handling and any health risk related to COVID-19. We buy 125 sandwiches per week, not knowing exactly how many children will show up. We never turn anyone away, so I’m glad we’ve had plenty of food.
With $3.76 allotted per meal, we can provide each child a sandwich, fruit, milk and a snack every day. We’ve also been able to squeeze enough money out of the budget to give each child a meal they can take home on Saturday and sometimes on Sunday. That gives us a real sense of accomplishment.
We find satisfaction daily in serving hospital patients and guests. But using our facilities and skills to help children in the neighborhood can be even more fulfilling. I’m hoping at this time next year we’ll be able to invite the children and their parents into the hospital to enjoy their meal.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Program is a federally funded program administered through the Pennsylvania Department of Education. And recently, we found out some great news. Typically, this program helps to provide lunches during the summer months, but given the circumstances of 2020, we are able to provide lunches to the children through the end of the year.