Big Red Picnic

Diane Knechel, an aide at West Broad Street Elementary School; Andrew Hudak, Souderton Area School District middle school staff developer; and Tom Lavella, a teacher at Indian Crest Middle School, stand with free student lunches being distributed at Indian Crest in the Big Red Picnic program. 

Bob Keeler — MediaNews Group

SOUDERTON — Summertime and the living isn't easy.

About one quarter of Souderton Area School District's students — about 1,500 kids — receive free or reduced price meals during the school year. 

During the summer, that's not happening, so a coalition of community organizations that help fight hunger year-round have banded together to provide free lunches for students over the summer.

"It's just amazing how much families rely on school lunches and when school is out of session, there is a huge need that we're hoping the community recognizes, and we are here to try to fulfill," said Arlene Daily, Keystone Opportunity Center's executive director.

In a pair of new programs, Souderton Area School District has the Big Red Picnic Project, which provides a free lunch to district students 11 a.m. to noon Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at E. M. Crouthamel Elementary School and Indian Crest Middle School; and Keystone Opportunity Center provides free lunches to students from any school district 1 to 2 p.m. Tuesdays during the Fresh For All food distribution in the Grace Bible Church parking lot on Main Street in Souderton and to Souderton Area School District students in families that are Keystone food pantry clients at the food pantry 1 to 2 p.m.  Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and, based on availability, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Thursdays. 

The lunches are available during 10 weeks beginning in June and ending in August. While the Keystone lunches and the Big Red Picnic ones are separate programs, they work together to accomplish the same thing, Andrew Hudak, the school district's middle school staff developer, said. 

Food for the Big Red Picnic program is provided by the school district's Food Service Department, Brenda Oelschlager, the district's coordinator of community education, said. 

"Our volunteers pack the lunches and transport them from the high school to the school to their pick up," she said. 

About 200 district employees have volunteered to help with the program, Hudak said. 

Registration is not required, so an expected amount is prepared and there are more in reserve that can be used if needed, Hudak said. Any lunches that are prepared and not picked up can be used in other programs, such as the district's summer camp, so nothing goes to waste, Oelschlager said. 

A few weeks into the program, Hudak said the number of lunches provided by the Big Red Picnic varies, but was about 125 per week.

Keystone is partnering with Philabundance to distribute 1,800 lunch boxes over the summer through its new free lunch program, Alan Raisman, Keystone's manager of advancement, said.

Since 2015, Keystone has also provided kid-friendly food bags in the summer to food pantry clients who have school children, Raisman said. The kid-friendly bags are in addition to the regular monthly food pantry distributions, he said.

"Last year, we distributed 215 bags of kid-friendly food bags throughout the summer," Cindy Dembrosky, Keystone's food pantry manager, said. "It took us all the way through to the end of August, so this year, we're hoping to be able to put together 225 bags." 

Along with food, the kid-friendly bag distribution includes "Giggle bags" made by students at Salford Hills Elementary School, first aid bags and nutritional information, she said.

The SASD Summer Food Coalition includes the Souderton Area School District, its Food Service and Community Education programs, Indian Valley Education Foundation, Keystone Opportunity Center and the Bean Bag Program at Zion Mennonite Church, information about the coalition says.

The Bean Bag Program provides a bag of food each Friday during the school year that receiving students can take home for food over the weekend, Oelschlager said.

Donations of food or cash are needed year round, representatives of the food programs said. 

"The shelves get a little thin in the summertime," Dembrosky said. "We're always looking for donations because hunger doesn't go on vacation." 

The summer lunch program is an additional one, not part of Keystone's regular programs, Daily said.

"It's something that Keystone just took on ourselves recognizing that there is such a level of hunger in children over the summertime," she said.

See www.KeystoneOpportunity.org/hunger for information on the summer lunch program or to donate to Keystone.

Souderton Area School District doesn't qualify for state funding for the summer lunch program, so all the food is paid for by community contributions,  Oelschlager said.

If a student came to all the Big Red Picnics in the summer, the cost to provide the food for that student would be $120, she said. 

Private donors or community organizations have either donated or committed a total of $55,000 to the program, she said. The original goal was to try to get $36,000 of donations, Hudak said. 

Money received this year that exceeds the costs will go toward next summer's program, Oelschlager said. 

By fall, there will hopefully be an online donation option for the program, she said. 

Until then, donation checks may be made out to Souderton Area School District with "Big Red Picnic" written on the memo line, she said. The checks can be mailed to the District Office at 760 Lower Road, Souderton, PA 18964, she said. 

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