Broke in Philly

How hungry Philly kids can get free lunch over winter break

Rec centers around the city are hosting the meals on three separate days.

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Philly students are on winter break. Because of the 2019 holiday schedule, where both Christmas and New Year’s fall on Wednesday, the city’s public schools are dismissed for almost an entire two weeks.

That gives kids a nice break to celebrate the holidays, but also puts a crunch on those who depend on school for breakfast and lunch — so one city agency is working to bridge the gap.

Overall, nearly 20% of Philly’s population experiences food insecurity, per the most recent count. That’s 300,000 people who couldn’t consistently afford food — meaning the number of hungry Philadelphians exceeded the entire population of Pittsburgh. That group includes nearly 75,000 children who don’t get enough to eat, according to the latest Feeding America “Map the Meal Gap” study.

The Department of Parks and Recreation tapped into funds provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide free meals for students on three days over this long recess.

This is the first time Parks & Rec has provided food for kids during winter break. But, per spokesperson Maita Soukup, it’s a “natural extension” of the rest of the department’s programming. In the last two years, Parks & Rec has served more than 10,000 meals during spring break and other school holidays.

Served at rec centers all over the city, here’s what’s on the menu:

  • Monday, Dec. 23: Turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches with diced peaches
  • Friday, Dec. 27: Sliced chicken on whole wheat with apple slices
  • Monday, Dec. 30: Beef, salami and cheese sandwiches with diced peaches

The food will be dished out on a first come, first serve basis. Time of day for the meals varies; you can call your local rec center to find out when it’ll be available on each date. Soukup said Parks & Rec expects to serve 2,000 total kids during the holiday recess.

To be clear, this free food is just for people under 18 — and it’s only for eating on site, not for taking home.

Department officials hope to continue this program in future years.

“The city has been exploring new ways to prevent food insecurity when school is closed for a few years now,” Soukup told Billy Penn. “We are going to closely review how meal service goes this winter to prepare for next year’s winter break.”

Adults facing hunger can visit one of the free meal sites run by the Office of Homeless Services.

Want some more? Explore other Broke in Philly stories.

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