PITTSTON – Children who attend classes within the Pittston Area School District or live near Pittston can now receive free snacks and hot dinners thanks to an after-school program run by the Commission on Economic Opportunity in conjunction with the Pittston Memorial Library.
Over the last year, 15 similar programs began in Luzerne County, due to a rising number of children who receive free or reduced lunches at their respective school districts.
Gretchen Hunt, nutrition program director for CEO, said the organization looks at the child population within a school district and determines if 50 percent or more receive free or reduced lunches.
If that school district reaches the 50 percent threshold, CEO will reach out to local community centers, such as libraries, to offer free snacks and hot dinners, Hunt said.
That's good because we can provide services to children in need, but it's … an unfortunate indicator of how (the economy and unemployment) are impacting kids, Hunt said.
Hunt said over the past several years, CEO has seen more and more schools qualifying for the after-school program, including places they didn't expect to.
Like Pittston, Wyoming Area and Riverside School District in Lackawanna County, Hunt said. Certainly the need is growing each year. More and more school districts are exceeding that mark.
Most recently, Hunt said, CEO reached out to the Pittston Memorial Library.
Typically we look for places where kids frequent…housing developments…school itself, day cares, Hunt said.
Gemma Williams, who runs the after-school program at the Pittston Memorial Library on Broad Street, said the library was more than happy to offer the free program to local children.
Libraries aren't just libraries anymore, Williams said. Libraries are active community centers and libraries.
The program began at the library on Dec. 3, and so far sees about 10 to 15 children who come for snacks or dinner.
There is a need for this, and we're happy to help any way we can, Williams said.
A recent snack served included mini bagels and dinner included turkey and macaroni-and-cheese.
Library staff set up for each meal, serve and do activities with children.
They can do their homework and we'll play board games or word jumbles so that we're in there doing stuff with them, Williams said.
Hunt said all meals are prepared in the Wilkes-Barre-based community kitchen and distributed to locations that participate in the program.
A total of 35 sites currently receive meals and CEO served around 1,500 dinners just last month.
At the Pittston Memorial Library, snacks are served from 4 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and hot dinners on Mondays and Thursdays from 4 to 5 p.m.
To find out if snacks or meals are served in your area, go to www.ceopeoplehelpingpeople.org or call CEO in Wilkes-Barre at 826-0510 or in Hazleton at 455-4994.
The free snack and dinner program is free to children up to age 18. No registration is required.