The summer food service program run by the Altoona Area School District provided free breakfasts and lunches to children under 18, operating at ten different locations and running for 29 days.

“There is a lot of need for it,” says Don Redshaw, Metz Culinary General Manager at the Altoona School District. “Many of our students receive free or reduced meals during the school year. A lot of families are struggling, and without our assistance, summer can be tough.”

The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program has shown a steady increase since 2001, with data showing 45,000 sites across the country and an average of almost 2.5 million children participating daily.

Recognizing Altoona’s success with the program last summer, when 38,000 meals were served, the USDA awarded the district with the Summer Food Service Champion Award. Redshaw says the program this summer served even more meals, about 40,000.  Altoona is one of Pennsylvania’s largest school districts, with a student population of nearly 8,000.

At the sites in the Altoona area, lots of nutritious breakfasts were served, including  breakfast wraps and sandwiches with egg, cheese and sausage; French toast, cold cereals and fruit juices. Lunches included chicken patty sandwiches, tacos, hot roast beef, cheese steak sandwiches, pizza, hoagies and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

All meals provided met USDA nutrition guidelines. Metz supplements the requirements with freshly made breads, fresh fruits and vegetables for added nutrition.

Of the ten sites, seven were open to all children, regardless of where they live. The remaining three sites were open to children enrolled in an activity program. Parents and guardians could also eat with the children for a fee ($2.75 for lunch and $1.75 for breakfast). Breakfast was served from 8:30 to 9:45 a.m., and lunch was served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Redshaw says there is a lot of paperwork and logistics involved with pulling off a successful summer program, and he relied on Denise Lamson, assistant manager, Katie Dorian, nutrition educator, Adam Bush, cafeteria book keeper, and Kathy Hazenstab, assistant to the superintendent/business.

“We heard from a lot of kids and parents that they wish the program could last longer,” Redshaw says. “Still, we’re happy to have the opportunity to lessen the burden as much as we can.”

SUMMER FUN: One of Altoona's summer food service program sites, made fun for summer.