Free meals, summer programming fights hunger epidemic among Philly's youth

Hadas Kuznits
July 05, 2019 - 6:00 am
Breaking Bread on Broad

Hadas Kuznits/KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — For hungry North Philadelphia kids looking for activities over the summer, Congregation Rodeph Shalom has a program for them — and all are welcome.

The synagogue is just one of many institutions across the city that double as free summer meal sites. Just text "FOOD" to 877877, and you'll receive a message telling you the closest location where you can get free summer meals.

But Julian Ovalle, director of the Breaking Bread on Broad program at the synagogue, said this free meal site stands out because it also provides free summer camp-like programming between the meals.

"Everybody who's involved in the program plays a big role in how we connect with those kids and make those kids feel like they are being loved and taken care of," he said, "and not only being fed, but that they are creating relationships."

Rabbi Eli Freedman, who oversees the social justice programs at the synagogue, said kids can come anytime between 8 and 9 a.m. for breakfast. "Then between 9 and 11 a.m., we have all sorts of activities going on based on our congregational volunteers, and then we have a nice, healthy lunch for them."

Ovalle noted there is a hunger problem in the neighborhood. More than 90 percent of the children who attend school near the synagogue receive state-funded breakfast and lunch during the school year.

"If there is no gas in the car, the car doesn't move. If those kids don't have food in their stomach, it's tough for them to do what they're supposed to be doing," he said. "They're young and you're like, 'Why don't you have energy? You're a 10-year-old. You should be full of energy.' "

On top of that, state programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are "continually being cut," said Freedman, so kids aren't able to get enough healthy food.

Breaking Bread on Broad works in partnership with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, but it also has a grant to supplement the food they get with fresh ingredients. Volunteers not only lead programming like art and yoga, but they actually come in and cook with the children. Freedman said it's an informal way to teach them about nutrition.  

Most kids who attend the summer program are between the ages of 6 and 14, but anyone under the age of 18 is welcome.

"Just come," Ovalle said. "Show up, please. We are here to feed whoever comes."

Breaking Bread on Broad runs through Aug. 25. 

For more about the program and the hunger epidemic in Philadelphia, subscribe to the What's Cooking podcast on the RADIO.COM app.