Special Report | Who's feeding the kids?
SCRANTON (WOLF) —
Soon the final bell will sound.
Classes will be out for the summer.
But the school year's end often marks the start of a season of worry for many.
"We support all of our local pantries and food programs, which all see a higher demand in the summertime when kids are home from school and not getting that free breakfast and lunch," said Gretchen Greaves, Director of Resource Development and Nutrition Programs at Weinberg Regional Food Bank.
The Scranton School District battles poverty.
"We do have a high poverty rate compared to other districts in our area. It's 81%," Dr. Alexis Kirijan, Scranton School District Superintendent, said.
That number qualifies all students to get free breakfast and lunch fives days a week through a federal provision called community eligibility.
But only when school is in session.
"We have a lot of families that are really struggling to make ends meet," added Greaves.
Gretchen Greaves directs resource and nutrition programs at the Weinberg Regional Food Bank.
They cover four counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
This summer, across Lackawanna, Luzerne, Wayne, and Susquehanna, they will help to fill that void by providing kids lunches at 75 different locations.
"Throughout that whole territory, we have almost 40 thousand children who are getting free or reduced-price lunch throughout the school year. Those are kids coming from very low to moderate income families, and they're going without those two meals all summer long. That's a lot of meals that are being missed," Greaves said.
Last year they only served about 2,300 out of those 40,000.
"Because the schools aren't open in the summer, there isn't that one single gathering place for children like we had during the school year, and so getting all of the kids involved and fed is a much greater challenge," said Greaves.
Eight of those summer sites are in Scranton run by Friends of the Poor.
"It's devastating to me because our kids are our future. They're our next leaders, they're our next bosses, they're the ones who are going to write and pass legislation in the coming years," Meghan Loftus, CEO Scranton Friends of the Poor, said.
Meghan Loftus is their CEO and says many parents will see their expenses start to pile up.
"When summer comes, it's a whole new wardrobe that your kids have to wear, and they're definitely a different size than they were last summer. It's 5 days a week, usually your kids are somewhere from at least 8-2, and now, who watches them during those hours when you're working? It''s, you didn't have to prepare breakfast or pack a lunch for those five days if you're in Scranton School District," said Loftus.
"Just with the cost of living being high, the cost of housing being high, wages being low, even families that are working, two working parents, they're still struggling," said Greaves.
Even when they're feeding lunches over the summer, that's just one meal a day, and doesn't include weekends.
We spoke with lunchroom staff at JFK Elementary and Scranton High and they say some students ask for seconds.
And Monday mornings at Scranton High, they're cleared out of food.
"For many families, hunger really is an invisible issue. It's not something that we see because if you're in that situation you're probably not broadcasting it," Greaves said.
Loftus sees first hand the effects of food insecurity, even during the school year, with the district-provided meals.
"We have 7, 8, and 9 year olds who are helping their younger siblings put together a snack or who are worried about their younger siblings getting something to eat so when they come and get a snack after school, they want to grab one for their 3 or 4 year old sibling who's not in school yet," said Loftus.
Greaves and Loftus agree that lack of nutrition creates a detrimental and lasting effect.
"Will you see children who are struggling in school struggling academically because they can't focus on their work, kids that have behavioral issues, not because there something wrong but because of hungry. Kids that have you know just a lot of stress in the household at home," Greaves said.
"You really have to make sure that the kids are comfortable, that they feel stable, so that they can focus on their academics because, otherwise, the cycle just continues. We want to make sure that everybody graduates from high school and goes on to a trade or to college or something so that they can provide for themselves in the future and try to break the cycle," added Loftus.
But Feeding America says Lackawanna County needs another $14.4-million to meet the annual food need.
"We just want to make sure that Scranton is still a beautiful place to live in 40 years when the children that we're raising now are the ones running the show," said Loftus.
"It's going to require everybody being involved and everybody being willing to give in one way or another to take care of the kid down the street," Greaves said.