Dinners for Kids: Feeding the Future

Article featured in IndependentNEPA Magazine

If you walk into Ollie’s Restaurant, in Edwardsville, on a Monday afternoon, you won’t just see dining customers and busy waitresses. You will see tables topped with entrees like turkey, chicken parmesan, and homemade strawberry cake with sprinkles that smells better than your mother’s kitchen. And, you will also see a group of Dinners for Kids volunteers who couldn’t be happier to be fighting against child hunger.

Troubled by the number of children in America living in food-insecure households– more than 17 million– Ollie’s Restaurant Owner Dave Tevet sought a way to use his resources to feed the hungry children in his community balanced and nutritious meals.

With the help of Luzerne County Children and Youth Services, the Commission on Economic Opportunity (CEO), and the Wyoming Valley West School District, Tevet started Dinners for Kids, a nonprofit initiative that delivers six dinners a week to the children of food-insecure homes. The first meals were delivered in February 2011 to children in Edwardsville, Larksville, and Lehman.
“It’s a simple solution to a serious problem,” Tevet said.

For single mothers, custodial grandparents, and low-income parents, the responsibility of purchasing and preparing healthy meals for children can be overwhelming. While most schools offer low-cost or free breakfast and lunch to students in need, none offer dinner or weekend meal programs. Children often go to bed hungry, living their lives from school lunch to school lunch, not getting the nutrients they need to grow and develop.

Using the wholesale food resources available to him at Ollie’s, Tevet was able to reduce expenses so that each meal could be made for only $3.50. Dinners for Kids can provide the children six meals for only $21 per week, and $1092 per year.

Eligible children are referred to the Dinners for Kids program by Luzerne County Children and Youth Services and administrators in the Wyoming Valley West, Wilkes Barre, and Dallas School Districts. Upon selection, the program communicates directly with the child’s parent or guardian to define dietary restrictions, and allergies.

The Dinners for Kids menus are planned by Tevet, meeting USDA nutritional recommendations, and are prepared at the restaurant. Each meal contains carefully measured portions and fresh fruit. They are packaged in microwave-safe containers to allow for storing and reheating and are labeled with an expiration date.

Tevet hopes that the Dinners for Kids program will not only nourish the children, but teach them to make healthy eating choices.

“The kids used to come home from school and grab anything that was here. Now they come home and wait to see what you have to offer them,” said Mary Wolffe, an aunt to children involved in the program.

Since the first delivery, Dinners for Kids has received positive feedback, including letters from families and teachers offering testimony to the success of the program.

One teacher said, “When the children are hungry, they are less attentive in class. When they have a full breakfast or lunch, they have more energy to pay attention and participate.”

Joseph Kloss, Luzerne County Children and Youth supervisor, wrote that he received a response from school administrators stating that, “the children over the past few weeks appear more happy and attentive in the classroom.”

With an advisory board of local community leaders and business owners, Dinners for Kids hopes to expand to reach children in neighboring towns and already has a growing waiting list. In order to provide to more eligible children it hopes to get other organizations involved.

“There are other initiatives out there that are doing their part to fight hunger,” said Tevet. “Dinners for Kids is designed to complement those programs, not compete with them.”

The program currently functions with the help of volunteers from the All Saints Church, in Plymouth, and Church of Christ Uniting, in Wyoming, but as the program expands, so will the need for volunteers.

If you can offer your time to package meals, make deliveries, or offer a monetary donation, you can contribute to the fight against child hunger.

“Besides the fact that it is a great human service, it can be a great return on investment. Society as a whole will be rewarded as children grow up better educated and healthier,” Tevet concluded.