More than 42,000 children in the Pittsburgh region lack regular access to food that’s affordable and healthy. Citiparks is helping with its free Summer Food Service Program, which kicked off in Allegheny Commons Park West on June 20.

By Alexander Oh 

The scenes at Allegheny Commons Park West resembled recess at an elementary school playground. A cacophony of childlike laughter filled the park as children ran excitedly across the grass. Frantic parents followed closely behind trying to keep the tireless packs of children together.

On June 20, Citiparks kicked off their Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which provides free breakfasts, lunches, and snacks to anyone under the age of 18 or residents with intellectual disabilities up to the age of 21. The SFSP will operate at approximately 80 city locations throughout the summer until August 23. According to the City of Pittsburgh, more than 42,000 children in the Pittsburgh region are food insecure and about one in seven children take advantage of free summer meals. 

“The summer food program is great because when kids get free and reduced meals throughout the school year, come summer time, those meals are not happening so this really fills in the gap,” says Chris West, the children nutrition outreach coordinator for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. “It lets kids have a fun place to go with good activities, good nutritious food, and helps family’s budgets as well.” 

Food at the event was provided by the Mobile Food Truck (MFT), which serves free lunches throughout the city. It served 2,200 meals in 2018 alone. The MFT works in conjunction with the Citparks Roving Art Cart, a consortium of neighborhood volunteers and artists that provide fun activities for the children in attendance. Several other organizations were also present at the event including the Pittsburgh Playful Collaborative and Reading is FUNdamental Pittsburgh, who’s presence took the form of their mobile library, the Storymobile. 

“The summer food program makes a huge difference for those families struggling when they’re in food deserts, when they don’t have enough money to make ends meet,” says Felicia, a Northside resident attending the event. “I remember in my community growing up, we had summer food programs and we used to partake so it’s good that it’s still around.”

Find the closest SFSP food sites to you by visiting the 2019 Summer Meal Site Finder.  For more information regarding summer meal sites in your neighborhood, call 211 or text “food” to 877877.