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‘All schools have families in need.’ Travelin’ Table finds new ways to feed, teach kids

After its first summer feeding hundreds of kids in Centre and Clearfield counties, the Travelin’ Table — a mobile food delivery and educational program — is bringing its anti-hunger mission to local schools.

The bus — covered in an array of fruits and vegetables — is hard to miss and is the newest addition to the Moshannon Valley YMCA’s anti-hunger programs. Last week, the bus visited Our Lady of Victory Catholic School in State College. For a three-day programming event, students toured the bus, learned about nutrition and tasted foods they might not have even seen before.

“We wanted to give these kids the opportunity to taste fruits that some of them may have never had,” Moshannon Valley YMCA Executive Director Mel Curtis said. “In other words, we did kiwi berries, something that I never heard of, and we wanted to give them an idea of how important fruit is to their daily supplements of what they need to be eating.”

The Travelin’ Table came to life through a partnership between the YMCA and CenClear Child Services. Its network has grown to include Penn State Health Medical Group, Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, AmeriHealth Caritas, the Department of Education and the United States Department of Agriculture. The bus was one of six national recipients of No Kid Hungry’s Innovation Acceleration Award.

Students were able to sample a variety of fruits and listen to Curtis talk about the importance of eating a well-rounded diet. In addition to the nutrition component, kids learned about the Travelin’ Table and its feeding initiatives.

“They had a great time, I think, and kids want to learn,” Curtis said. “And actually, we’re trying to get the kids to understand some of the issues that communities are facing and potential ways that they could help out.”

Data compiled by the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank reports that 58% of families, 29% of children and 13% of seniors experience food insecurity. Out of its 27 counties served, there are more than 140,000 people in need each month.

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Students at Our Lady of Victory school try an assortment of fruits, including kiwi berries, thanks to the YMCA Traveling Table program on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Equipped with a full-size kitchen and storage facilities, the Travelin’ Table serves rural communities in Centre and Clearfield counties during the summer, feeding 500-600 kids per day through the mobile service and the YMCA’s 24 feeding sites. But Curtis didn’t want the bus to stop running when summer ended. In addition to the YMCA’s Backpack Weekend Food Program — a weekly program where students receive a backpack of food each Friday — the Travelin’ Table will continue to visit local schools and offer cooking lessons and nutritional classes.

“All schools have families in need, sometimes it is a temporary situation, a loss of job or medical emergency,” OLV Principal Samantha Weakland wrote in an email. “Other times, it is a set of circumstances that will impact a family. At OLV, we have some in need too.”

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Students at Our Lady of Victory school try an assortment of fruits, including kiwi berries, thanks to the YMCA Traveling Table program on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Although OLV does not participate in the backpack program, Weakland said the school operates an “Angel Fund” to help support families in need and offers free and reduced lunches to students.

Every year, middle school students choose a service group and organize a school-wide and grade-wide project to participate in, such as collecting donations for local food banks. Weakland said the Travelin’ Table program gave kids a new perspective to learn about hunger awareness.

“The students enjoyed tasting the fresh fruits the Travelin’ Table brought,” Weakland wrote in an email. “Prior to the tasting, the students discussed the service that the Travelin’ Table provides and then reflected on the fact that some children may not have much to eat once they go home from school.”

Curtis said middle school students are already able to volunteer with the backpack and feeding programs.

“I think if they’re given the opportunity and they can do something, they’re excited about it,” Curtis said. “They want to be part of something.”

Curtis said the Travelin’ Table’s next stop will be to Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District or Moshannon Valley School District.

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