Poverty Relief Fund Grant Helps Launch Summer Feeding Program

Father John Pendzick, left, and Deacon Thomas Reimer talk with children on an August morning at the ecumenical “Summer Feeding Program” at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fullerton. (Photo by John Simitz)

By TAMI QUIGLEY Staff writer

The Diocese of Allentown and several parishes played an important role this year in the ecumenical “Summer Feeding Program,” a new breakfast program for all Whitehall and Coplay school-age students, kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Diocese awarded a $2,000 Poverty Relief Fund Grant to the summer food program run by the Whitehall Coplay Hunger Initiative through St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Whitehall.

Food for the breakfast program, run by Janice Stavrou and Lana Snyder, was provided through the grant, private donations and Second Harvest Food Bank.

“It is a good program,” said Deacon Thomas Reimer of St. Peter, Coplay, one of the program’s volunteers.

“When kids are hungry they can’t play,” Deacon Reimer said. He explained schools provide breakfast and lunch for students from low-income families, but when school is out for the summer, the meals stop. This program filled a gap.

“It’s difficult for any meal when parents are pressed for money. This program keeps kids fed and happy.”

The program’s kickoff meeting took place May 17 at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fullerton. “St. John’s pastor has generously allowed the program to use the kitchen facilities and break room for the program,” Deacon Reimer said.

Breakfast was served from the Monday after school let out in June until the Friday before school was back in session in August. Children enjoyed breakfast, reading, fun and educational activities, exercise, game playing and more from 8:30 to 10 a.m. each day.

Area churches of various faiths are involved in the program, including the Catholic parishes of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Father John Pendzick, pastor; St. Peter, Msgr. John Martin, pastor; and Holy Trinity, Whitehall, Msgr. Daniel Yenushosky, pastor.

“We didn’t cook every day,” Deacon Reimer said. Some days volunteers cooked such breakfast favorites as eggs, bacon and sausage, and other days a cold breakfast with cereal was served.

After breakfast children played board games and did an activity, such as a painting project – every week was a different project.

A highlight of the program’s projects was the children hatching chicken eggs brought in by the 4-H. They could watch the six chicks in the incubator, kept in a container to keep them warm. Then the 4-H came to pick up the chicks.

On another day parole officers came to read books to the children through the “Cops ‘n Kids” program.

Deacon Reimer said eight to 20 children attended each day. “Some kids came mostly every day, others floated in and out. They seemed to enjoy it.”

When children left for the day, they went home with a lunch such as Chef Boyardee cans and microwavable bowls, fruit and shelf-stable milk.

Items were collected to go home to help the children over the weekends.

Leah Saliby, an eighth-grade teacher at Whitehall-Coplay Middle School, directs the Snack Pack Pals Program that has helped the neediest of children in grades kindergarten through grade eight since 2015 through the Whitehall-Coplay Hunger Initiative. Food left over from Snack Pack Pals was donated to the breakfast program.

“The idea for the breakfast program grew out of Snack Pack Pals,” Deacon Reimer said, noting the need for the program is very real, as more than half of the Whitehall-Coplay School District’s student population qualifies for the free or reduced-price lunch program.

School students, such as those in honor societies, in need of community service hours were invited to volunteer for the program.

Private donations included school bags and supplies by BB&T Bank and Whitehall Rotary; and a bag of health supplies from the Islamic Center of Whitehall.

The Summer Feeding Program is a very important and needed community outreach program that greatly benefits area youth. The program began this year in Fullerton, and Whitehall Coplay Hunger Initiative aims to expand out in other areas of the township over the next several years.

“We’re hoping next summer to expand into the Coplay-Egypt area,” Deacon Reimer said.

WFMZ Channel 69 News also visited this summer to broadcast a story on the breakfast program.

In a separate program, an evening meal has been served to families the third Tuesday of each month at various churches in Whitehall and Coplay since 2016.

St. Peter partners in this with Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Whitehall, which is the site of the meals since Faith is handicapped accessible. St. Elizabeth of Hungary and Holy Trinity partner in this program, with the meals served at St. Elizabeth.