EDWARDSVILLE — Five years ago, Ollie’s American Restaurant owners Dave and Edna Tevet utilized their restaurant’s buying power and kitchen to prepare meals for 40 children living in “food insecure homes” in the Wyoming Valley West School District.
The premise of the program was simple; the couple prepared six meals a week, all year, packaged them in microwaveable containers and volunteers delivered them three times a week.
The program, called Dinner for Kids, has blossomed and the restaurateurs now provide up to 120 Wyoming Valley West students with meals. The total cost to the restaurant is $2.20 per meal, Dave said.
“We provide about 37,000 meals a year,” Dave said.
Dallas School District is the next slated to benefit from the program in late January due to a partnership between Metz Culinary Management and Misericordia University, both in Dallas.
The Dinner for Kids program fills a growing need in Luzerne County.
“According to the 2000 census, 14.7 percent of children in the Wyoming Valley were living in poverty,” said Bill Jones, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Wyoming Valley. “Today, 29.6 percent of children are living in poverty. There are over 11,500 children in the county.”
Area school districts do what they can to feed students by serving reduced or free breakfasts and lunches but a “nutritional gap” forms when a student does not have access to healthy food at home, Dave said.
Eighty percent of the students attending State Street Elementary School in Larksville are enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs, Wyoming Valley West Superintendent Charles Suppon said.
Edna Tevet receives reports from teachers who have seen students devour “one cereal bar after another on Monday mornings.”
She believes the children are hungry from not eating over the weekend.
“Dinner for Kids has been God-sent,” Suppon said. “Balanced nutrition is so critical (for children). When students come (to school) without breakfast, they lack concentration.”
The identities of families enrolled with Dinner for Kids is completely confidential, Suppon said. But he has received positive feedback from some of the families.
The Tevets have also received letters of gratitude from families, noting the meals “reduce the stress level” in their homes and “children are not going to bed hungry anymore. “
When the Tevets designed the Dinners for Kids program, their goal was to have other restaurants step up to help battle the problem of childhood hunger.
“The children are the victims,” Edna said. “We would love it if other restaurants would like to help.”
Business owners interested in replicating the program may call the Tevets at 570-288-6609.
Misericordia University has teamed up with Metz Culinary Management to mirror the program in the Dallas School District.
“We heard what Dave has done and wanted to be part of it,” said Maureen Metz, vice president of marketing at Metz Culinary Management. “We were born and raised in the Back Mountain. It is a natural link to help our community.”
Dallas School District Superintendent Thomas Duffy welcomed the program, noting demographics in the Back Mountain are changing.
“Our reduced lunch population is over 24 percent,” Duffy said. “It took less than an hour and a half to identify 40 eligible students for the program.”
According to preliminary plans, Metz Culinary Management will prepare meals at Misericordia University’s cafeteria kitchen. Drivers from St. Therese’s Church in Shavertown and Gate of Haven Church in Dallas will pick up the food as well as volunteers from the university.
The volunteers will deliver two meals, three times a week to designated homes, said Norbert Swithers, the home school visitor at Dallas School District.
“We already have the (driving) routes planned out,” Swithers said.
Reach Eileen Godin at 570-991-6387 or on Twitter @TLNews.