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Former Steeler Charlie Batch promotes free summer meal program for kids

| Friday, June 30, 2017, 4:18 p.m.
Former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch speaks to more than 100 kids inside Faison Elementary School's gymnasium after they received their free lunch on Friday.
Emma Curtis | Tribune-Review
Former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch speaks to more than 100 kids inside Faison Elementary School's gymnasium after they received their free lunch on Friday.
Students wait to hear from anti-hunger advocates in Faison Elementary School's gymnasium on Friday.
Emma Curtis | Tribune-Review
Students wait to hear from anti-hunger advocates in Faison Elementary School's gymnasium on Friday.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch and others working to end hunger teamed up to kick off this year's free summer meals program in the gym of Pittsburgh Faison K-5 School in Homewood at noon on Friday.

Shortly after dozens of kids received and ate their lunches, students and mentors gathered to listen to anti-hunger advocates stress the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, even in the summer months.

The program, created by the Food and Nutrition Service of the Department of Agriculture in 1968, seeks to make free meals available for kids and teens ages 18 and younger while school is out of session. The program stems from the fact that food insecurity grows when children are at home for the summer.

Rather than kids sleeping through meals or eating unhealthy snacks, the free summer meals program provides them with a variety of nutritious lunch options, including milk, fruit and vegetables, at no cost.

Only one in 10 children who are eligible for these free meals actually take advantage of the program. Because of that, 19 million children across the country go hungry, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The start of Pittsburgh's program aims to inform more families and children in the area that they can use this as a resource.

Batch was part of the program when he was a child and said he was happy to speak to the kids now using the program. He said he hopes that the other nine in 10 kids not attending these lunches will soon discover the program.

“I'd really encourage (other families) to come out here to see that there are things available to them,” Batch said. “Once they realize that, hopefully more kids will be able to take advantage of it.”

The Pittsburgh School Food Service has been providing children with free meals for more than 25 years. Curtistine Walker, the director of Pittsburgh school food services, said the program provides more than a simple lunch, but a chance for kids to socialize with their peers.

“Even though they aren't attending summer school, the socialization is an educational piece,” Walker said. “It helps to develop better ways for kids to learn and communicate with other kids.”

There are 28 locations in the Pittsburgh area that will be providing free lunches this summer. A full list of these locations can be found at fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks or by texting FOOD to 877-877.

Emma Curtis is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7822, ecurtis@tribweb.com or via Twitter @EmmaCurtisPGH.

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