The Travelin’ Table, a bus repurposed with a kitchen and other equipment, is one of several ways the YMCA of Centre County will offer free lunch for kids at sites around Centre and Clearfield this summer. Pictured is Moshannon Valley YMCA branch Director Mel Curtis demonstrating at the cooking station inside the bus. Photo by Vincent Corso

This story appears in the June 3-9 edition of The Centre County Gazette.

Many kids rely on school lunch to get the nutrition they need. And with food insecurity at an all-time high due to the pandemic, quality sources for getting young people this valued nutrition are becoming much harder to come by.

A popular program now entering its 17th year is helping the cause: the YMCA of Centre County Summer Lunch Program. Although the learning stops when that final school bell rings this month, the feeding won’t.

“There are literally thousands of children throughout the county that depend on the schools’ free/reduced (price) lunch program. Unfortunately, when school closes those meals are no longer available for the children and these children need to find alternative food sources,” said Mel Curtis, director of the Moshannon Valley YMCA branch.

“Food insecurity is high throughout Centre County, and this is caused by a family’s lack of work, sickness, transportation and much more. Food insecurity doesn’t necessarily mean poverty; it is caused by outside forces in the change of family income.”

Starting on June 7 and continuing through Aug. 18, the program will distribute meals at 25 sites in seven school districts throughout Centre and Clearfield counties from noon to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Lunch and evening snacks also will be distributed at each site.

The healthy meals will meet guidelines making sure they provide protein, fruit, vegetables, bread and milk. A full list of sites can be found at https://www.ymcaofcentrecounty.org/programs/youth-development/feeding-our-children.

All children under the age of 18 have equal access to this program. No child is turned away.

In addition, the YMCA’s mobile feeding units, the Travelin’ Table bus and the Hometown Heroes firetruck, will be serving meals at special events throughout the area.

“We are going to be doing more on the mobile feeding side, such as doing events where we are partnering with other agencies,” Curtis said. “The plan is to have games and activities, along with lunch and snacks. We will stay at sites for a two-hour time period. This is a way to get children out and moving and also socializing with other children.”

These special events will be posted on the YMCA’s website and social media.

All this comes as food insecurity continues to affect many families in the community, as the impact of the pandemic continues.

“We are seeing our numbers grow at food distributions. Many families that may have had a two-income family may be down to one income, they may have had to take a lesser paying job, they may not have transportation,” Curtis said. “We hear often about how families used their savings to pay their bills, and how some families aren’t able to have both parents going back to work due to childcare. Many families didn’t seek assistance because of embarrassment or pride, and they are at the point where they now are accepting assistance.”

It is important for people to understand that food insecurity can impact families all across society, especially during this time of economic uncertainty, he added.

“There are many families that have nice homes, cars, etc., but through the pandemic and lack of work, are facing things they never thought they would; two incomes down to one, lesser paying job, stress of taking care of the family at the prior level lifestyle,” Curtis said.

“Food insecurity is at an all-time high, and according to Feeding America, it may take six to seven years from the start of COVID to get back to pre-COVID statistics. Prior to COVID, we were seeing one in seven children facing food insecurity; we are now seeing one in four. Many of the food programs that were started to help families are no longer available, so we expect our numbers to continue to grow.”

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