When schools close for the summer, many parents struggle to feed their children. “More than 30,000 kids in the Lehigh Valley are food insecure, meaning they don’t have access to healthy meals every day,” says Dr. Cathy Coyne, LVHN’s Director of Health Advocacy and Policy. “As a member of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council, we clearly saw the importance of hosting a summer meal site as a way to change this heartbreaking scenario.”
On June 28, LVH–17th Street became one of 26 sites in Allentown to host the Summer Meals Program, a federally funded, state-run program that helps ensure youth living in low-income areas don’t go hungry when school is out.
“Because more than 50 percent of children in the Allentown School District are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, we don’t have to screen for eligibility,” Coyne says. “We’re an open site, meaning no registration or identification is required.”
Free healthy lunches are served Monday through Friday between noon and 2 p.m. in the School of Nursing building. All children 18 years of age and younger are welcome. Alternative meals are available for those who for religious reasons don’t eat pork or kids with food allergies. The program runs from June 28 to Aug. 24. “We are fortunate to have Sodexo as a partner in this effort,” Coyne says. “They prepare healthy lunches for the kids according to the nutrition guidelines given to us by the Summer Food Service Program.”
Supporting healthy, happy families
When the kids come to LVH–17th Street for lunch, they have fun. There’s music, and they can pick up crayons and coloring paper. Everyone is happy while learning about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise.
“In addition to getting a nutritious lunch, kids get the feeling they are being cared for,” Coyne says. “Parents and caregivers are very appreciative and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from our clinical partners. They see the kids in clinics and know that when they don’t get nutritious meals on a consistent basis, it puts their health, learning and well-being at risk.”
Over this two-month period, attendance fluctuated daily. In total, the program will serve more than 400 lunches to kids this summer.
The next step is to brainstorm ways to increase engagement. “We want to get more kids to take advantage of these summer meals next year,” Coyne says. “We want them to come back.”
One in three children in the Lehigh Valley is hungry, according to the United Way. Participating in programs like the Summer Meals Program is part of LVHN’s mission as a not-for-profit organization to give back to the community and make it the best it can be.