For most children in Philadelphia, summer means the ends of tests, homework and studying. For thousands of children from low-income families, it can also mean no more lunch.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) steps in to offer children throughout the city a healthy lunch even when school is no longer in session.
Cynthia Butts and Celeste Taylor, co-coordinators of the summer food program at Lovett Memorial Library, have teamed up to bring SFSP to Mt. Airy.
Butts said she was familiar with the federally funded initiative before this year, but never imagined that she would be organizing the program until a recent visit to the Parkway Central Library. Butts went to register as a volunteer and Taylor was looking to inquire about employment opportunities. Butts’ son, an employee of the library, relayed their desire to help.
“He said that God sent angels, because they were trying to find someone for this program,” Butts said.
Starting the program
When the two women were asked if they could help initiate the program at Lovett, the answer was an immediate yes.
Butts said that meals are available for children 17 years old and under regardless of residency. The program provides free lunches and snacks every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at the library. The food is delivered day-of to the program site and meets Federal Nutrition Guidelines.
A typical lunch consists of a sandwich, a side of carrots or apples and a juice box or a carton of milk. Snacks vary day-to-day, but can range anywhere from yogurt to animal crackers. Lunches are served at noon, and kids can return for a snack at 3 p.m.
Volunteers facilitate the process by setting up the meals and handing them out to children. Meals are served at a plaza directly outside of the building and children are encouraged to eat at one of the nearby benches or at a picnic table in the adjacent lawn. Butts said she tries to schedule at least three volunteers a day.
“You never know how many children you’re going to have,” she said. “A lot of parents work throughout the summer.”
It’s why the program is essential in Mt. Airy, according to Butts. The library sits across the street from the local recreation center and provides a cool place to hang out in the summertime.
The Lovett Memorial Library program launched the last week of June and will run until Friday, August 9. Around 20 children showed up for the first day of the program, according to volunteers.
In Philadelphia, the Summer Food Service Program is sponsored by the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation, Philadelphia Housing Authority and Nutritional Development Services, an office of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Human Services. In 2012, area sponsors served nearly 90,000 children at over 1,000 locations, such as recreation centers, churches, schools, community centers and feeding sites.
The SFSP is a federally funded program that is nationally operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered in Pennsylvania by the Department of Education. The program was created as part of a larger pilot program in 1968, but officially became its own program in 1975.
A resident of Mt. Airy for the past year, Butts noted she was proud to be able to make this contribution to her local community. So far, the best part about bringing the program to Mt. Airy has been the enthusiasm and support from people in the neighborhood, she said.
“This is like the volunteer capital of Philadelphia or something.”
Visit the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s searchable map to find a program near you.
Brianna Michelle Bosak and Elizabeth Diane Sim are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.