Schenectady County

College-community lunch service in Scotia park called a success

Organizers say a school lunch program offered by students from Union College and local volunteers ha

Tina Stewart’s 3-year-old son, Payton, seemed to enjoy the carrots the most.

That was obvious by how many he tried to put into his mouth at the same time Friday at Scotia’s Collins Park.

The mother brought Payton and her 1-year-old daughter, Lina, to the park to take part in a school lunch program offered by students from Union College and local volunteers.

Organizers say it has helped fill a void in a village where income numbers don’t qualify for inclusion in a government-subsidized summer lunch program.

“It really helps out,” Stewart said Friday, the last day of the season for the program in Scotia. “I don’t have to provide lunch every day, so that’s really helpful. They get to come out and socialize with other children and then go to the park and play, so it’s really nice.”

This year was the first year a lunch program was offered at the park in several years. Schenectady Inner City Ministry, which runs the lunch program in Schenectady, used to offer the program in Scotia. But, as rules for the state- and federally funded program changed related to poverty levels, SICM wasn’t allowed to open there, and instead put its resources elsewhere.

The program returned this year with the help of Union College students and demand has been high enough for the students to continue it next year, incoming Union senior Cristina Cusano said.

Cusano has run the program through its eight weeks in operation. It was designed by Victoria Chee, who has since graduated.

The program’s final day was Friday, as it was at some of the summer lunch sites run by SICM in Schenectady. Others in the city will remain open through Aug. 30.

The Scotia program was run Monday through Friday, with turnout ranging from 25 to 55 children per day, Cusano said. Attendance often was dependent on the weather.

Some of the children also came from a recreation program offered in the park, Cusano said.

“It was very time-consuming, but everything was obviously very worthwhile,” Cusano said.

With the program having to be operated on its own, it received donations from area businesses and village churches. Volunteers also came from the churches. Produce and milk were donated by Union College.

First Baptist Church in Scotia held a fundraising barbecue that brought in $3,000 for the program, Cusano said.

Scotia resident Irene Civitello was volunteering at the site Friday from St. Joseph’s Church in Scotia, helping hand out plates and drinks.

“It’s a wonderful program for the children,” Civitello said. “It’s great to see everyone get a good lunch.”

Included in Friday’s meal was pizza, apples and Payton’s favorites, the carrots.

“It’s just a really great program,” his mother said. “I’m glad they were able to offer it this year.”

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