Jayson Ankney of Tarentum said the free lunch served Tuesday at Central Presbyterian Church was worth the walk from his house at the top of the hill.
A sixth grader in the Highlands School District, Jayson gobbled up the pancake bites and home fries doled out in the church basement on Allegheny Street.
“I thought these were mini corn dogs, but they’re pancakes and they’re pretty good,” he said. “So far, everything’s pretty good.”
Free lunches continue to be served from noon to 1 p.m. weekdays at Central Presbyterian for children up to age 18.
The hot food is offered through the Kids Meal Network of the United Methodist Church Union.
The program lasts through Aug. 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 lets out, kids won’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 without any income guidelines or questions.
According to its website, the program doled out more than 33,000 meals to children in 2020 at the height of the pandemic through Allegheny, Armstrong and Westmoreland counties.
At Central Presbyterian, the program has run for about seven years.
Meals are kid-friendly and consist of items such as hamburgers, hot dogs and Salisbury steak, among others. There is fruit and milk on every tray.
Rankin said he has partnered with two local day care centers to visit a few times a week. If there are leftovers, the food is distributed to the public through the church’s meal ministry.
“We don’t waste food,” Rankin said.
Jayson, 12, visited Tuesday with his siblings, Carson, 16, and Clarissa, 17.
Their older brother, Michael, was in the kitchen scooping food onto the trays from big silver chafing dishes. The 18-year-old recent Highlands grad is a summertime employee at the church and helps with landscaping, cleaning and kitchen work.
“I love it here,” he said. “The work is great, and it’s nice that they serve these meals. It’s not cold sandwiches; it’s kind of like the lunches you get at school.”