Jayson Ankney of Tarentum said the free lunch served Tuesday at the Central Presbyterian Church was worth the walk from her hilltop home.
A sixth-grader in the Highlands school district, Jayson gobbled up bites of pancakes and home fries spread out in the basement of the church on Allegheny Street.
“I thought these were mini corn dogs, but they’re pancakes and they’re pretty good,” he said. “So far, everything is pretty good.”
Free lunches continue to be served from noon to 1 pm Monday through Friday at Central Presbyterian for children ages 18 and under.
The hot meal is offered through the United Methodist Church Union Kids Meal Network.
The program lasts until August 12. Church leader Dave Rankin said it provides meals for about 15 children a day and serves a great need in the area.
“Highlands is a district where lunch is 100% free,” Rankin said. “The concern is that when school is over, the children don’t eat.”
According to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, the child food insecurity rate in Allegheny County is 16.5%. Access to healthy and consistent meals is key.
The Methodist Church Union offers an eight-week program throughout the region to ensure food is available with no guidelines or questions about income.
According to its website, the program delivered more than 33,000 meals to children in 2020 at the height of the pandemic in Allegheny, Armstrong and Westmoreland counties.
At Central Presbyterian, the program has been running for about seven years.
Meals are kid-friendly and consist of items like hamburgers, hot dogs, and Salisbury steak, among others. There is fruit and milk on each tray.
Rankin said he has partnered with two local daycare centers to visit a few times a week. If there are leftovers, the food is distributed to the public through the church’s food ministry.
“We don’t waste food,” Rankin said.
Jayson, 12, visited her siblings Carson, 16, and Clarissa, 17, on Tuesday.
Her older brother, Michael, was in the kitchen serving food on trays of large silver plates. The 18-year-old recent Highlands graduate is a summer employee at the church, helping with landscaping, cleaning and kitchen work.
“I love being here,” he said. “The work is excellent and it’s nice that they serve these meals. They are not cold sandwiches; It’s kind of like the lunches you get at school.”
Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. Tawnya can be reached via email at [email protected] or via Twitter.