This week, staff writer Clare Collins talks with Andrea Wharton about the upcoming Kids Eat Free Summer Lunch Program, which runs Mondays through Fridays through late August.
Occupation: School crossing guard
Title: Site manager
Q: Where did the idea for the Kids Eat Free Summer Lunch Program come from?
A: In Scranton, it started as a high school senior project 14 years ago. They contacted the Commission for Economic Opportunity and set up locations and arranged for businesses and people to volunteer a week of their time to serve the lunches. I volunteered for one week 14 years ago and continued ever since. The Summer Food Service Program for Children was created to serve nutritious meals to children when National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program meals are not available.
Q: How many years has this been a tradition?
A: It has been in Connors Park for 11 years. In greater Scranton, it has been around for 14 years. The Summer Food Service Program is a federally funded, state-administered program.
Q: Who is this event open to?
A: It is open to any children and teens 18 and younger.
Q: Where does the food for the lunches come from?
A: It comes from various food service providers. This year is my first year using Aramark as the food provider for Connors Park.
Q: What kinds of lunches will be served?
A: It includes a variety of cold lunches, which will include milk, a fruit and a vegetable.
Q: What else will be on hand at this event?
A: At the lunch site in Connors Park, we have added many activities for children throughout the summer. We also have a free produce market for the families that utilize the summer lunches in the park. This program runs in conjunction to our lunch and is provided through the Commission on Economic Opportunity out of Wilkes-Barre.
Q: What is unique about this event?
A: My program is unique because I believe kids need to be socially enriched as well as nutritionally enriched. About seven years ago, I started adding various programs to the lunches. We have had many organizations — such as CEO, the South Side Revitalization Project, the Scranton Police Department, the Scranton Fire Department, the United Way and various church groups — throughout the years that have helped provide activities. Activities attract kids who might not necessarily need food but want socialization, which is great. It takes away from the stigma that all the kids who attend are hungry or that they need the food. It is true; I have kids who come because there is a need for food in the home, but I also have kids who come for the water war games or the reading program. I have kids whose parents want them out of the house to enjoy fresh air for at least an hour instead of playing video games for the whole day. To me, it doesn’t matter why you come; rain or shine, I will be there serving lunches. It’s my passion. I’ve seen some of the same children year after year and have watched them grow up and become wonderful adults. The kids in my neighborhood know that when it’s summertime and school is out, there are lunches in the park. I am blessed to be able to do this program.
If you go
What: Kids Eat Free Summer Lunch Program
When: Mondays through Fridays through late August, rain or shine; lunch, noon to 1 p.m.; activities follow lunch (no lunch Thursday, July 4)
Where: Connors Park, 515 Orchard St., Scranton
Details: For more information visit education.pa.gov. Additional Summer Lunch Program sites include Fellows Park, 1000-1098 Fellows St., Scranton; Connell Park, O’Hara Street, Scranton; and other locations.
Patrice Wilding is a 13-year employee of the Lifestyles Dept. at The Times-Tribune, where she worked her way up from a clerk to a web video producer to a full-time reporter, writer and copy editor. An Olyphant native, she graduated from Mid Valley Secondary Center and earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with concentration in media arts, political science and communications from Wesley College, Dover, Delaware. She lives in Clarks Summit with her husband, Justin, and their son, Johnny. Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9100 x5369; @pwildingTT