“How many of you sometimes go to bed hungry?”
A few weeks ago, Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Richard Negrin asked that question to a roomful of young children at a local YMCA.
Several small hands shot up. Other boys and girls nodded.
These children aren’t alone. In Philadelphia, one in four children are considered food insecure.
During the school year, an estimated 160,000 children receive free or reduced-price meals at school. But when school is out, many of them miss out on the food and nutrition they need to stay healthy and active all summer long.
That’s why the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger is working to connect thousands of children in our city with free summer meals. Kids and teens 18 and under can eat free meals at more than 1,000 sites across the city, including playgrounds, recreation centers, places of worship, community organizations and more.
Despite the importance of this program, nearly half of low-income children in Philadelphia are still missing out on summer meals.
Thanks to supporters like you, we’re working to change that. Our Philly Summer Meals Hotline and text messaging service help families find their nearest summer meals site. And we’ve partnered with the Mayor’s Office, community leaders and organizations to spread the word: No child should go hungry while school is out.
Toward the end of Deputy Mayor Negrin’s visit to the YMCA, all of the children sat down at their tables to eat their summer meal--a turkey sandwich on wheat bread, carrot sticks, fruit and low-fat milk.
The consensus? “Pretty good,” as one 7-year-old put it.
We couldn’t agree more. With your help, we’re confident that we’ll be seeing a lot more kids and teens enjoying some “pretty good” meals this summer, too.
Just a few weeks ago, we attended a graduation ceremony in North Philadelphia. It was a small gathering--19 proud women and men who were accompanied by their family members, busily snapping photos and clapping as each graduate’s name was called.
These weren’t high school or college students. These accomplished graduates were part of the inaugural group of members of our Green Light Pantry, and they had just completed a one-year series of nutrition classes.
We created the Green Light Pantry program over a year ago to serve as a new model for what food pantries could look like here in Philadelphia and beyond. Unlike traditional food pantries, Green Light Pantries provide only healthy foods to members--fresh fruits and vegetables; whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta; lean proteins such as fish, chicken and beans; and low-fat dairy products, including yogurt and skim milk.
To further support families in making healthier choices, we also give them biweekly nutrition classes, medical screenings and other free services.
On that graduation day a few weeks ago, we were thrilled to honor the 19 women and men who had taken time out of their busy lives to complete a year’s worth of nutrition classes as part of our Green Light Pantry program. Among them were working mothers and fathers as well as grandparents who had made a commitment to helping their families lead healthier, more active lives.
That includes parents like Leonella, a mother of three teen boys. She works full time and attends college classes in the evening, so it’s a daily challenge to afford and prepare balanced meals. “My three boys have all struggled with their weight, because it can be really tough to afford healthy foods,” she said. "We used to eat a lot of mac and cheese, instant noodles, or other foods that were cheap and filling. The Green Light Pantry allows us to eat healthier foods, and my kids love it. They love trying new fruits and vegetables.”
Stories like Leonella’s (and those of all the graduates we honored a few weeks ago) wouldn’t be possible without supporters like you.
We know that we have much work ahead to ensure all families in our region have access to the healthy food they need, but reaching this milestone assures us that we’re on the right track.
We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but far too many low-income children aren’t getting the nutrition they need in school.
More than 600,000 low-income children eat school lunch in Pennsylvania. But over half of those kids--56 percent--aren’t getting school breakfast. And when kids skip breakfast, it can affect their health as well as their ability to learn in school.
That’s why this school year, the Coalition Against Hunger launched the first-ever Pennsylvania School Breakfast Challenge, with the help of public and private partners across the state.
The 2014 Pennsylvania School Breakfast Challenge aims to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program to ensure all students start their day off right. Schools that participate in the Challenge can receive technical assistance and equipment to improve their breakfast programs, from spreading the word about school breakfast to students and families to implementing alternative models of serving breakfast that are proven to boost participation.
More than 1,100 schools have registered for the Challenge, with a total enrollment of 675,000 students.
Thanks to supporters like you, we’re ensuring all students have access to school breakfast so more children have the nutrition they need to succeed in school.
It’s hard to believe that summer is already over. But thanks to supporters like you, thousands of students in the Philadelphia region went back to school last month, nourished and ready to learn.From June through August, the Coalition Against Hunger connected more than 3,400 children in our city with free summer meals, ensuring no kid went hungry while school was out.There were over 1,000 parks, churches, recreation centers and other community sites that offered free summer meals to children throughout the city. Despite this availability, we found that more than half of low-income students in Philadelphia were still missing out on those critical summer meals. That’s why the Coalition works hard every summer to get the word out to families across the city who could benefit from this important nutrition program. This summer, we operated the toll-free Philly Summer Meals Hotline and text messaging service, so families could find their nearest sites. We also partnered with community organizations, neighborhood food pantries, places of worship, libraries, health centers and more, enlisting their help to spread the word about free summer meals for kids. By summer’s end, we had helped more than 3,400 children get free summer meals in Philadelphia, ensuring they had the nutrition they needed while school was out.We couldn’t have done this work without the support of dedicated individuals like you. Thank you for your help in making this summer a good one for more kids in our city, and we look forward to staying in touch throughout the year.
Some staggering facts:
With numbers like these, we know it's no longer enough to provide food to hungry families. We must ensure that these families have nutritious food that improves their overall health, instead of just filling their bellies.
That's why last month, the Coalition Against Hunger opened a first-of-its kind food pantry in the city. Unlike most food pantries, this new program will provide only highly nutritious, quality foods to clients. We call the program our "Green Light Pantry.”
Here, we provide families with only foods that can be categorized as “Green Light Foods” under a system that ranks foods based on their Nutritional Facts labels and USDA Dietary Guidelines.
Families are also allowed to choose their own food. Among the selection: Whole-wheat pasta and cereals; low-fat milk and yogurt; fresh fruits and vegetables; and lean proteins, such as canned salmon, frozen chicken, fresh eggs, and beans with no salt added. Items that you might typically find at other food pantries—mac and cheese, for instance, or canned soups that are high in sodium—will not be carried.Clients also attend nutrition classes every month and receive free health screenings and assistance in applying for SNAP (food stamps), school meals and other programs that can help their families afford to make healthier food choices.
Our first Green Light Pantry opened in the Kensington section of Northeast Philadelphia this spring, and we've already seen some results.
“The Green Light Pantry gives me access to healthy and fresh grown food—things that I wouldn’t think of buying myself,” says one pantry client, Nasheeda, who has a 1-year-old son. “I now have the opportunity to change my diet and have learned how to make healthier meals.”
We think it's a good start. Next up? A second Green Light Pantry in North Philadelphia, scheduled to open this fall.Thank you, as always, for your support.
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