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Summer lunch programs feed hundreds of local kids. Travelin’ Table aims to reach even more

Walmart gives $50,000 to YMCA of Centre County Backpack Program

Walmart gives $50,000 to help the YMCA of Centre County Backpack program that provides food on the weekends to youngsters in need.
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Walmart gives $50,000 to help the YMCA of Centre County Backpack program that provides food on the weekends to youngsters in need.

There is no face to hunger, but starting next week, the Travelin’ Table will be the face of hunger awareness as it travels to areas in Centre and Clearfield counties to feed children who do not have access to regular food sources.

“People really need to understand there is no face to hunger,” said Mel Curtis, director of the Moshannon Valley YMCA. “There is no territory to hunger.”

The YMCA already hosts a lunch program, but the mobile food bus was inspired by the amount of children who are unable to reach the Moshannon Valley YMCA’s 24 feeding sites.

Both the YMCA Summer Lunch Program and the Travelin’ Table will start June 17.

Curtis said the YMCA has received “tons” of positive feedback regarding the bus program and its partners: CenClear Child Services, Penn State Health Medical Group, Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, AmeriHealth Caritas, the Department of Education and the United States Department of Agriculture.

“There’s pocketed areas where kids can’t get to the sites, so little villages are pretty excited about (the bus) because they know that this is an opportunity for the kids to get fed,” Curtis said.

Throughout the planning process and during program’s final stages, Curtis said the YMCA experienced no hesitation from its partners and said they are eager for the program to begin.

“When you start to pull a core group of people together that have one thing in common, that’s to make sure the kids know where their next meal is coming from, and I think that has just been phenomenal,” Curtis said.

In an attempt to enhance summer food programs through its mobility, the Travelin’ Table will be staffed by six to eight people and will offer cooking, fitness and educational services in addition to the nutritional component.

“I am really excited over the fact that we are going to be able to help a lot of kids. We’re going to make a lot of difference in children’s lives,” Curtis said. “When they see this bus coming down the road into their town (and) into their neighborhood, they know that this bus has food for them, and they can go eat and don’t have to worry about things.”

Feeding America reports a food insecurity rate of 13% in Centre County and 12.3% in Clearfield County.

During the summer, over 500 meals a day are served by the YMCA’s Summer Lunch Program. With the Travelin’ Table, Curtis thinks that number will increase by a minimum of 100 to 200 additional meals.

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Youngsters enjoy milk, a ham and cheese sandwich, apples, carrots and a snack at Howard Elementary on Friday, June 23, 2017. The YMCA summer lunch program offers free lunches to youngsters throughout the community. Abby Drey Centre Daily Times, file

Curtis hopes the bus will bring awareness to food insecurity throughout Centre and Clearfield counties.

“We want the bus identified with hunger,” Curtis said. “We’re still trying to get people to understand there is a hunger problem, so the bus itself, by being seen, by being on the road and being at events, people can see it, walk through it and see what it can do and how it can help families.”

Curtis said a two-week schedule of the Travelin’ Table’s delivery locations will be posted in local newspapers, community flyers, in churches and on the YMCA’s website and Facebook page.

The YMCA’s summer lunch program is not the only initiative to combat food insecurity in the Centre County area. Penn State’s Healthy Bodies Project co-sponsors a summer lunch program every Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Centre County Library and Historical Museum, starting June 18. Like the YMCA’s program, the Healthy Bodies Project aims to provide food for a “hidden population” in the State College area, said Healthy Bodies Project Director Lori Francis.

“The hunger needs of families in the area are probably missed or largely ignored due to the assumption that we live in a predominantly affluent area,” Francis said.

Francis said she started the program due to a lack of summer food resources for children who come from low-income families in the Centre County area.

“We know that for some children, the only meals they eat during the academic year are the meals (and) snacks they receive at school,” Francis said.

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