After successful first season, Travelin’ Table aims to expand in Centre County

When school begins, the Moshannon Valley YMCA summer lunch programs will end, but the YMCA is working to expand its Travelin’ Table services ⁠— a mobile food bus that delivers lunches to children in pocketed areas throughout Centre and Clearfield counties.

At its 24 feeding sites, the YMCA serves an average of 500 meals per day. With the bus, the number of meals has increased by 100 to 200 per day, depending on the site. The Travelin’ Table reaches kids who are too far away from the YMCA’s regular locations, with the most lunches being served in Millheim, said Moshannon Valley YMCA Director Mel Curtis.

Though some may not recognize it, Curtis said Centre County is not immune to food insecurity. The Travelin’ Table aims to help residents understand that hunger is a concern some community members struggle with every day.

“You get into some of the areas that we go to, and you really wonder how people survive,” Curtis said. “It’s really scary.”

If someone loses their job, Curtis said food is almost always the first expense to cut back on.

“I’m constantly finding myself getting people to understand there is a hunger issue,” Curtis said. “It’s very important that they understand. A lot of times, people feel like we’re enabling kids, but we’re not. These are kids that if we’re not putting food out here for them ... they really don’t have the food.”

Curtis said the bus program has received positive feedback, and with an already successful summer, the YMCA is working to use the Travelin’ Table for a children’s farmers market, cooking lessons and nutrition classes when school starts. These programs would be in addition to the YMCA’s Backpack Weekend Food Program.

The YMCA Travelin’ Table is a school bus converted into a kitchen that travels around Centre and Clearfield counties providing nutritious lunches for kids. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

“We’re going to get fresh fruits and vegetables that I know these kids have never tasted ... we’ll give kids Y-bucks, like Monopoly money, and then they can go through and buy things that they want,” Curtis said. “They’re going to learn how money works ... and take all that food home with them at the end of the day.”

The children’s farmers market will also include cooking lessons and taste tastings.

“I think that the key to a program like this is people telling their friends,” Curtis said. “This isn’t about donations. This is about feeding kids.”

In partnerships with 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, Curtis said public awareness is key to the bus’s success.

A potential collaboration between the YMCA and State College Food Bank is also in the works. Together, they want to enhance their food programs and use the bus to deliver more community members in need, Curtis said.

Allayn Beck, State College Food Bank manager, said she is looking forward to future work with Curtis and the YMCA. Each week, the food bank picks up food from local grocery stores like Walmart, Sam’s Club, Giant and Weis Markets. Beck said the food bank then shares “their bounty” with food programs like the YMCA’s.

“We’re really about feeding the whole family, not just the kid,” Beck said, adding that programs like the Travelin’ Table make a difference by expanding to different parts of the county.

In addition to the summer lunch and backpack programs, the YMCA delivers meals to senior citizens through its Fresh Express service. Eventually, Curtis said he wants to deliver enough groceries to individuals to last until the next time the Travelin’ Table visits their neighborhood.

With government offices and officials located in Bellefonte and the State College Borough, Curtis said county residents in outlying areas have limited access to resources. Through the YMCA programs, he said the program is making an impact by providing community members with food their families are lacking and unable to afford.

“There’s a lot of people who can’t get into Bellefonte ... and State College to get the services that they need,” Curtis said. “And I think that shouldn’t be that way.”

The program will run until the end of summer. Two-week schedules of the Travelin’ Table’s delivery locations are advertised in local newspapers, community flyers, in church bulletins and on the YMCA’s website and Facebook page.

Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.