SCRANTON — June Doughitt knows the importance of the Summer Food Service Program that feeds children when school is out.
Doughitt, known as “Grandma June,” has been volunteering for 33 years and she was on hand Tuesday, as she is every day, to make sure the children at Washington Plaza off of Adams Avenue get their daily lunch.
“You would be surprised how many children go hungry,” Doughitt said. “If some kids don’t show up for lunch, I send others to their homes to get them to come down for their meal.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, held a news conference at Washington Plaza on Tuesday to call attention to the more than 34,000 children in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties eligible to receive nutrition assistance during the school year, but during summer months many of them go hungry. Casey noted there are more than 100 sites for them to get meals while school is out.
“Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation,” Casey said.
Casey said as July 4th holiday approaches, it’s important to remember that there are far too many children who are hungry.
Casey, co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, highlighted resources available to children who receive critical nutrition assistance during the school year. He discussed the resources available through the federal SFSP, jointly run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state Department of Education and local sponsors.
Casey said about 85 percent of the eligible eligible children do not take advantage of the free lunch program during the summer. He noted 21 million children nationwide receive school meals during the school year, but only about 3 million children receive summer meals.
Sister Ann Walsh, executive director of the Friends of the Poor, said the program helps ease the financial burden on families. She said feeding children is important to them doing well academically and socially and helps families keep food on the table.
Gretchen Hunt, director of “Food 4 Kids” programs at the CEO Weinberg Food Bank, said it’s more difficult to feed children when school is out because the schools are closed and the children are not at the same locations every day. She said the summer program feeds kids in housing developments, churches, libraries and recreation parks.
Hunt said the success of the program is dependent on volunteers and donors.
Weinberg Food Bank
Hunt gave an update on the new Monsignor Andrew J. McGowan Center for Healthy Living, a 50,222-square-foot warehouse and distribution center that will be the new home of the CEO/Weinberg Food Bank.
The facility, under construction in the Center Point Commerce and Trade Park East in Jenkins Township, will contain increased refrigerated and frozen storage to increase the food bank’s capacity to receive and distribute perishable, nutritious foods — particularly produce.
Hunt said a capital campaign to raise the necessary funds to complete construction and open the new facility has a goal of $7 million, and $5.5 million has been raised/committed to date.
Hunt said construction should be completed in late July with a grand opening in late August or early September. The facility will be built on 6.3 acres donated by Rob Mericle of Mericle Development, whose company also prepared the site for construction.
The charitable fund of the late William G. McGowan donated $2 million toward the $6.4 million center.
The Weinberg Regional Food Bank serves four counties — Luzerne, Lackawanna, Wyoming and Susquehanna, with 135 member-agencies and more than 200 non-member partners serving more than 9,000 people every week.