By Ryan McLaughlin and Jonathan Weaver
Ford City Borough started their annual free lunch program on June 16.
The lunch program, which is being sponsored by the Armstrong Community Action Agency, has gone on for many years, and is a regular expectation for parents and children in Ford City.
Lunches are handed out at Boulder Park, the 7th Avenue Playground, and Ford View Playground (in Ford Cliff).
One of the supervisors, Abby Remas, talked about her experiences going to the program as she was growing up.
The other supervisor of the 7th Avenue Playground, Traci Hura, talked about who all is eligible for the lunches.
“Any child 18 or under (can attend),” she said. “Over 18 has to have some sort of disability. So yeah, it’s open to everybody, whether you live in the district or not.”
They also added that children under 10 have to be accompanied by an adult.
Both supervisors talked about how some kids are regulars that sign up for their lunches every day. Others, however, only go certain days, and may even sign up for lunches and not be able to attend. This helps when certain kids show up without having signed up, so they can still have a lunch.
The supervisors and the parents said that the lunch program helps to bring the kids together. They said on average that they can have about 10 – 20 kids at the park on 7th Ave, depending on the weather.
Remas and Hura also added that the kids play together fairly, with only the occasional disagreement or “spat.” Hura added that it helped her children make friends, because she just moved into the area recently.
“I just moved in town here two months ago,” she said. “This is really nice for my children; I have a nine and a four-year-old. So they’ve gotten to know the other children in the neighborhood.”
The event is not just about the lunches, either. Hura said that the borough provided balls for the kids to play with, as well as the equipment at each playground. Tuesday, kids were running around, playing with balls, hula-hoops, playing on the equipment, or even playing with cards and board games. They looked like they were having fun.
The lunches provided for the program are made up at one of the schools. There is a menu for each day, so the children will know what they are getting each day. Hura explained that they had a “Share Table” for anything that the children didn’t want.
“If one child doesn’t like something, they put that on the Share Table,” she said. “And if another child likes it, they can come and pick off it. Then that way food’s not wasted.”
Jessica Jubec, 16, will be a junior at Ford City High this fall. She and neighbor and fellow supervisor, Nolan Cox, 17, supervise the Boulder Park playground at the corner of 6th Avenue and 6th Street.
“This is my first year doing it – it’s really fun, though,” Jubec said. “I like kids and I’ll probably do it next year.
“Out of the Ford City parks, I think we have the most. It gets kind-of hectic sometimes, but I’m glad there are two people to work so we can both handle it,” she added.
Supervisors are at the parks from 10AM-2PM – rain-or-shine.
“We always have something to do while we’re down here, no matter what it’s doing outside,” Cox said. “We have a select few kids that like to play in the puddles.”
Cox, who will be a senior at Lenape Tech this fall studying law enforcement, also hopes to work at the playground again next year, in-between working afternoons at the Ford City Pizzeria.
“I always like keeping busy – anything that I can do to help out,” Cox said.
Along with the part-time supervisors, some parents also hang out at the park to supervise their children.
Doneda Young of 5th Avenue comes with her 12-year-old daughter Chelsea Seigworth. Seigworth usually attends daily with Dan and Denise Rhoades, of 3rd Avenue, their 6-year-old daughter Layna and 8-year-old son, Landen – both of Lenape Elementary
“They look forward to coming over to play,” Denise said. “Sometimes, they don’t even want to sit down to eat.”
Jessica Gribik and Andrea Markilinski, both sophomores in college – Gribik at Slippery Rock University for marketing and Markilinski at St. Francis University for occupational therapy – supervise this year at Ford Cliff (Ford View) Playground. Both graduated from Ford City High in 2013.
For the first time in the past three weeks, no students attended Tuesday, Markilinski said.
“It looked like a good lunch – they missed out,” Markilinski said.
Gribik worked at 7th Avenue Playground – near where she grew up – the past two years and has some advice for next year already.
“Definitely we need to advertise better so more people know. We can basically watch your kids while you run errands, they get a lunch, we play with them, they get their exercise in…” the two agreed. “If it was known more, I think more kids would come.”
Interim Borough Manager Eden Ratliff checks in on the supervisors regularly while inspecting borough equipment and other workers. He was appointed just before training began and said there have not been any major problems so far.
“I think they’re doing very well,” Ratliff said.
Lunches will be passed out from June 16 – August 15, Monday – Friday, 11AM-1PM, with the only exemption being this Friday, the Fourth of July.