WILKES-BARRE —About 25 children were having fun at the Coal Street playground Monday, but when a summer worker yelled “Lunch is served,” they all came running.
According to Carol Hussa, Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA Healthy Community Coordinator, the free Food-n-Fun @ the Park Program is under way in partnership with the YMCA, the city and the Commission on Economic Opportunity to ensure that fewer kids and teens go hungry this summer. The free program is funded through a grant from the Walmart Foundation.
Hussa said that when the school year ends, so do free meals for the millions of children in economically challenged families who depend on the meals most. She said the program will provide nutritious meals and snacks, plus activities, to keep kids’ minds and bodies nourished and active.
“The free program offers children and teens, kindergarten to 12th grades, supervised, fun activities; educational and social programs and, best of all, a nutritious lunch and snack in four city parks and at the YMCA,” Hussa said.
Shanna Gong, 29, of Wilkes-Barre, said the program is “phenomenal.”
She brought her son to the park for a day of fun and having the lunch provided was a bonus.
“A lot of times children don’t get their fruits and vegetables at home,” Gong said. “This program provides a balanced meal that they need.”
Monday’s fare included tortilla chips with cheese sauce, salsa and beans, and fresh oranges and milk.
“The summer meals program has been an extraordinary success since it was launched a few years ago,” said Mayor Tom Leighton.
“Tens of thousands of meals have been served to city children when they are in their greatest need for proper nutrition,” the mayor said.
The Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA’s Summer Food Program is part of a national partnership between YMCA of the USA and the Walmart Foundation to address child hunger in communities. This summer, the Y will strive to serve 4 million healthy meals and snacks to 100,000 kids at more than 900 summer food program sites nationwide.
Joslyn Orrson, program coordinator, said combining healthy food with exercise is the key to the program.
“We offer educational classes as well to teach good nutrition. We try to teach them the benefits of eating a banana instead of potato chips.”
Hussa said the program is free to any child in the city; no registration is necessary and no fees are charged.
Hussa said the meals meet federal food standards.
In 2012, Hussa said, about 846 children participated. This year, she expects to serve more than 8,000 lunches to more than 800 children.
She said the lunches are usually served between 11:30 a.m. and noon at five locations:
• Coal Street Park: Coal and North Sherman streets.
• Iron Triangle Playground: Corner of Hickory and Metcalf streets.
• Madison/Flood Park: Corner of East Maple and North Washington streets.
• Parsons Playground: 1100 block of Scott Street, behind Turkey Hill.
• Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA: 40 W. Northampton St. Note: Space is limited to 50 children.
The Food-n-Fun @ the Park program is offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday through Aug. 16.
To learn more about the Food-n-Fun @ the Park Program, call the Wilkes-Barre YMCA at 823-2191 or CEO at 826-0510.