By Melissa Murray
Thank you to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank for allowing Pittsburgh Senior News to reprint this article
Tucked away in the kitchen of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, you’ll find Debbie Coleman. She spends her days there in the summer, Monday through Friday, making sure the children in her community are fed. As a volunteer for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), she prepares breakfast and lunch for kids in Troy Hill and does it with an unforgettable smile on her face.
“This is pure pleasure for me,” Debbie explained.
Known to the families in her neighborhood as “Miss Debbie”, she was recruited to be a summer food site volunteer several years ago. A friend and member of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish knew Miss Debbie was someone the kids in Troy Hill loved and trusted. That reputation comes from the “block parties” Debbie throws for the children in her neighborhood each summer. Complete with burgers, hot dogs, homemade ice cream and the necessary water balloon fight, she gives kids a safe place to have fun.
Debbie committed to serving as the volunteer for the church’s summer food site, already knowing many of the families in her community. Twice a day, she serves meals to about a dozen children. Each meal offers items like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain bread, low-fat milk and protein like chicken or beef.
Debbie says this opportunity has allowed her to get to know the children and parents on an even more personal level.
“Look, I don’t have any grandchildren and I want them,” Debbie said, laughing. “So, I spoil other people’s kids and then send them home.”
That spoiling comes from going above and beyond for the kids in her neighborhood. She brings food from home to make the meals her own. Sometimes, that means bringing cheese, eggs and breakfast meat for a special breakfast.
Lisa Imhof visits the summer food site in Troy Hill each weekday with her children, Antoinette and Patrick. She says she appreciates the variety in foods and activities on site for her children.
“They’re able to color, play tag and do other fun things with kids their age while they get a meal here,” Imhof said.
Lisa only learned about the summer food site about a year ago and said she is very grateful to be able to bring her children there. They walk just a few blocks to get to the church for breakfast and lunch.
“I used to make breakfast and lunch at home for the kids, but this definitely helps,” Lisa said.
While Debbie sees many of the kids in her Troy Hill neighborhood on a daily basis, like Patrick and Antoinette, she knows she could be reaching more of them.
“I see kids walking by my house who I’ve never seen before and say ‘hey, did you know there’s a program where you can get free breakfast and lunch?’” Debbie said.
She hopes to encourage children and families to take advantage of the resources in their own backyard.
“I think they’re afraid of change, afraid to walk in the door for the first time. One they do, though, they don’t stop coming back,” she said.
In a similar fashion to her neighborhood block parties, Debbie gives the children at her summer food site their own celebration as well. On the last day, she throws an ‘end of summer party’ where families can bring a dish for a potluck and she supplies burgers, hot dogs, sheet cake and other treats.
“When we’re done, I make them take the food home because I don’t know when they’re going to eat again.”
She also assembles backpacks for the children and distributes them before they return to school. Each backpack includes school supplies that are appropriate for the child’s grade level.
Until school starts, Miss Debbie will be making sure the kids in her Troy Hill neighborhood a place to enjoy two meals each day.
“It’s important for kids to have somewhere safe to go,” she said.
To learn more about the Summer Food Service Program, click here.