Education

Programs tackle childhood hunger

YMCA of Centre County Moshannon Valley Branch Director Mel Curtis talks about how the Backpack and Summer Lunch Program is helping youngsters in the community on Thursday, May 5, 2016, at Philipsburg-Osceola Middle School.
YMCA of Centre County Moshannon Valley Branch Director Mel Curtis talks about how the Backpack and Summer Lunch Program is helping youngsters in the community on Thursday, May 5, 2016, at Philipsburg-Osceola Middle School. adrey@centredaily.com

Stuff, pass and go.

That was the routine Thursday morning at Philipsburg-Osceola Area Middle School for volunteers stuffing backpacks with food.

An assembly line was set up in the school’s gymnasium along a group of tables filled with items like variety pack pasta, ready-to-go meals, ramen noodles, snack packs, fruit cups, nutrition bars, crackers and more.

Each backpack was to get one of each item, YMCA of Centre County Moshannon Valley branch director Mel Curtis said.

There were about 500 bags to fill. They were then being distributed to school districts in Centre and Clearfield counties for students in the Backpack Food Program.

It was part of a celebration after receiving a grant to help fund the program.

On Thursday, Wal-Mart awarded the YMCA of Centre County a $50,000 grant to put specifically toward that initiative, and the Summer Lunch Program that offers school-aged students a free lunch five days a week from June 6 to Aug. 26.

Curtis said summer lunches follow nutrition requirements provided by the state.

Since its inception in 2004, more than 170,000 meals have been served through the Summer Lunch Program. This year, 15 sites will offer lunches, and a bus will be available to offer “mobile meals,” Curtis said.

The Backpack Program, on the other hand, was started about 10 years later.

Curtis said that campaign began during the 2014-15 school year at the Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District and provides students with food to eat during the weekend. This school year, the Backpack Food Program expanded to Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Moshannon Valley, Penns Valley and West Branch area school districts.

This is something that made a major difference in the areas we serve.

Mel Curtis, Moshannon Valley YMCA director

“This is something that made a major difference in the areas we serve,” Curtis said. “The astonishing fact is that 1 in 5 children in Pennsylvania don’t know where their next meal is coming from. You stop and think about that like, ‘that’s not in my backyard or where I live,’ but hunger doesn’t have a face or territory. ... The long-range part of the program is to make sure no child is left hungry.”

In its first year, 140 backpacks were filled per weekend during the school year.

Volunteers pack 700 bags per week for school-aged children in six school districts

Curtis said more than 700 backpacks are filled per weekend in six school districts.

From the fall to the end of March, 123,427 meals were provided to students, and 68,771 snacks were offered.

Bald Eagle Area faculty and staff meet every Thursday at Wingate Elementary School to fill the bags for BEA and Bellefonte Area students.

About 200 backpacks a week are specifically filled for BEA students, Superintendent Jeff Miles said.

“I feel like I have 1,700 children that are my own and you feel protective, but this is by far the best thing I’ve been a part of,” he said with some emotion. “As far as the children, you can tell it’s effective when the kids can’t wait to get their backpacks on Friday. Honestly, when you do it the first time, you’re hooked. I think I missed two Thursdays, but it’s therapeutic and I’m better because of it.”

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

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