For most children in Philadelphia, summer means the ends of tests, homework and studying. Yet, for thousands of children from low-income families, it can also mean no more lunch.
But thankfully for the Summer Food Service Program, children throughout the city can continue to receive a healthy lunch even when school is no longer in session.
And thankfully for Cynthia Butts and Celeste Taylor, co-coordinators of the Lovett Memorial Library Summer Program, children in the Mount Airy neighborhood are now able to receive a healthy lunch during the summertime too.
Butts said she was familiar with the federally funded initiative before this year, but never imagined that she would be organizing a program until a recent visit to the Parkway Central Library. Butts had gone to register as a volunteer and Taylor was looking to inquire about employment opportunities, she said. Butts’ son, an employee of the library, relayed the women’s desire to help.
“He said that God sent angels, because they were trying to find someone for this program,” Butts said.
She said that efforts had been made to initiate the program at Lovett Memorial Library. Up until that point, however, nobody had stepped up to manage the program. They asked if we would mind helping, said Butts.
For the two women, the answer was an immediate yes.
However, having to start the program from the ground up was no small feat. The women diligently recruited volunteers and held meetings to create a schedule and discuss the program’s guidelines.
Butts said that meals are intended for children 17 years old and under regardless of residency. The program provides free lunches and snacks every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, at Lovett Memorial Library on Germantown Avenue in Mount Airy. All of the food is delivered daily 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 children are welcome to return for 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.”
Which is why this program is essential in a community like Mount Airy, said Butts. She said the Lovett Memorial Library seemed like an ideal location to host the meals, as it sits across the street from the local recreation center. Additionally, the library provides a cool place to hang out in the summertime and regularly hosts various events and competitions for children in the nearby community.
The Lovett Memorial Library program launched Thursday, June 27 and will run until Friday, Aug. 9. Around 20 children showed up for the first day of the program, said volunteers. Those that were there Friday said they hoped it would be just as successful.
Unlike Manayunk or Port Richmond – neighborhoods where this program has been in existence in years past – this is the first year that children in the Mount Airy community will have the opportunity to participate in the federally funded initiative.
In Philadelphia, this program is run through the Nutritional Development Services (NDS), an office of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Human Services. For over 30 years, NDS has been partnering with Philadelphia non-profits to bring the meals to their local communities. Last year, about 1,000 recreation centers, schools, parks and community centers served nearly 90,000 Philadelphia children.
The SFSP is a federally funded program operated nationally 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. More than 2.28 million children participated at almost 39,000 sites in the summer of 2012.
A resident of Mount 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 Mount Airy has been the enthusiasm and support from people in the neighborhood, she said.
“This is like the volunteer capital of Philadelphia or something.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Education has a searchable map that can help to find a program near you: https://www.pasummermeals.com.
For information about the Lovett Memorial Library Summer Program, contact email@example.com or 215-847-2490.