"Refuel at the Rec” Program provides free meals at 82 Recreation Centers during the School District’s winter break.
All of the 198,645 students who attend one of the School District of Philadelphia’s 323 public, charter or alternative schools are eligible to receive a free nutritious lunch daily. Many also receive a free breakfast. During the days they attend school, students can be sure to have at least one healthy meal per day.
But what about when the schools are closed for the holidays?
The Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation is addressing this need with their “Refuel at the Rec” Program, which provides free meals at 82 Recreation Centers during the School District’s winter break. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation runs the program in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Chestnut Hill’s Water Tower Recreation Center, at 209 E. Hartwell Lane, is one of sites that will distribute nutritious meals to children and teenagers up to 18 years old on the following days: Dec. 27, 28, 29, and 30, 2021 and January 3, 2022. No ID is required and meals must be eaten on site. Student meals will also be available on February 1 (Lunar New Year), and during the Spring break, April 11-14, 2022.
Water Tower Director Brian Mclaughlin said meals should be available to students by 2 p.m. each day. The Water Tower normally provides meals to students who attend the after school program, he said, “so when they are out of school, we can provide meals to any kids who need it.” McLaughlin said they have offered meals during the pandemic when schools were closed and that they “feel it is a worthy enough program to keep it going.”
What are the meals like? Maita Soukup, Communications Director for Parks and Recreation, said that the meals are similar to the USDA- approved meals they serve to children in the afterschool programs. “Young people can expect a healthy balanced lunchtime meal - main course, veggie, fruit, and side/dessert,” Soukup said. “Popular meals include hoagie sandwiches and make-your-own pita bread pizzas.” Milk is the beverage that accompanies the meals.
Three other recreation centers in Northwest Philadelphia will be providing meals on the same days through the program. The Hillside Recreation Center at 201 Fountain Street in Roxborough the recently upgraded Dorothy Emanuel Recreation Center at 8500 Pickering Street in Cedarbrook will be serving at noon, and the Daniel E. Rumph II Recreation Center (formerly Mallory Recreation Center) at 100-70 East Johnson St. in Germantown will provide meals between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Soukup notes that the Department has provided meals during the school breaks, along with summer and after school programs, for a number of years. “As the second largest provider of youth meals in the City,” Soukup said, “Philadelphia Parks & Recreation serves over 1.6 million meals to young people each year.”
The Department decides on the specific sites to be included, she said, “based on geography and need.” The four Northwest Philadelphia sites also host after school programs, so distribution of student meals is a familiar part of their programming.
Food insecurity is a term defined as the inability to afford or access adequate food. According to a 2016 study by Children’s Healthwatch out of Drexel’s Center for Hungerfree Communities, one in four families in Philadelphia experience household food insecurity, with one in eight families reporting food insecurity among children.
“Winter recess is a time for students to have fun and enjoy time with their family and community. No child should go hungry because schools are closed,” said Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell.
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