Lunch program brings Penn Hills neighborhood children together
On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, the smell of oranges being peeled permeates the 400 block of Idlewood Road as a group of 15 to 20 children sit at plastic picnic tables talking, joking and eating.
Penn Ridge resident Beulah Gibson spent this summer giving babysitters in her neighborhood a short break.
Gibson and a neighbor have set up a site outside Gibson's home which serves as a USDA Summer Food Service Program site for children in the neighborhood.
The federal program is sponsored locally by Homestead-based Touching Families and the Southwest Pennsylvania Food Security Partnership.
Gibson, 71, said she saw a need in her neighborhood to get local children together.
“A lot of parents around here are working, and babysitters are maybe inside on the phone, and if one of the kids says they're hungry, what's the first thing you hear from the babysitter? ‘I'll get it in a minute,' ” Gibson said. “I figured if we did the lunches, it would take some pressure off the babysitters.”
Gibson got permission from her landlord, Annette Paulone, to use the property as a lunch site, and got the Food Partnership and Touching Families organizations on board as sponsors.
Touching Families has been involved with the Summer Food Service Program since 2012, said administrative department director Nicole Richardson.
Touching Families sponsors 15 sites in and around Pittsburgh, including in Bellevue, Downtown, Homestead and Braddock. Richardson said she is pleased with how the Idlewood Road site has worked out.
“Her site has been very successful,” she said. “She's had a lot of community support.”
Gibson keeps an attendance log, and the number of children varies between 25 and 50 depending on the day.
Local Girl Scouts also pitch in, stopping by once a week to help serve food and hold crafting activities for children.
Lunch is served Monday through Friday from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., and Gibson serves a late-afternoon snack from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. No registration or financial eligibility requirements apply.
Gibson said she hopes to continue next summer (the site closed on Aug. 16), and encouraged other Penn Hills neighborhoods to get involved.
“Everything we needed, they gave us,” she said. “They come by every morning to drop off your lunches and a snack, and the next morning, they come back and do the same.
“It's really nice.”
Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.