Free lunches in Braddock get boost from intern
Braddock's traditional, free lunch program for children at three community playgrounds is being run this summer with help from a college intern working for the borough and from health services provider UPMC.
The borough holds two summer programs — the weekday lunches along with the playground program — at its Center Street, Washington Street and Camp Avenue parks. Braddock in past years has offered a lunch program through Allegheny County, officials said, but because of cuts to that program the borough looked for an alternative and for volunteers to help.
“Being able to provide a free and nutritious lunch for kids in Braddock during the summer is important and necessary,” borough Manager Maria McCool said, adding she's grateful to people and organizations supporting the effort.
About 40 lunches a day, from noon to 12:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, go to children ages 6 to 14. The separate UPMC Health for Life Summer Camp Program, held at Fairless Elementary School in Braddock, is providing the lunches for the borough's program this year, and many children who receive the meals at the playgrounds are enrolled through Health for Life.
“The quality of the food is great, the kids are really enjoying the lunches, and the nutritional value is high,” McCool said.
University of Pittsburgh student Matthew McParland, 22, is working with Braddock this summer to coordinate the lunch program. McParland is paid for 15 hours but also puts in volunteer time for a total of 35 hours a week. He also is working with the borough on social networking and other communications projects.
McParland watches trends and numbers of lunches served each day at the playgrounds, estimating the amount of food needed. He shares the information with Michelle Chisholm, manager of women's and children's services at UPMC McKeesport. The 13-year-old Health for Life camp in Braddock has been run from UPMC McKeesport since UPMC closed its Braddock hospital in 2010.
While UPMC is providing lunches this summer, Braddock's playground program receives donations and help from nonprofit organizations and local businesses.
“This year, the program has been doing extremely well, and I'm proud of the growth we have seen, but more importantly making the children happy,” said McParland, a Pitt senior from Philadelphia who is studying social work and children's literature.
He's responsible for ensuring that food is delivered and served for the lunch program, based on UPMC's protocol, making sure serving areas are clean and staffed and keeping in touch with McCool. McParland, Chisholm and AmeriCorps staff members Melissa Murphy, Clay Dustin and Katie DeBinski serve the lunches.
Paige Mitchell is a freelance writer.