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USDA Honors Summer Meals Program for Schoolchildren
June 27, 2024

Tina Amato, MS, LDN, RD, Manager, Physical Activity & Nutrition, Allentown Health Bureau, serving a nutritious meal during St. Luke’s Summer Meals program in Allentown.

USDA Honors St. Luke’s Community Health With Gold-Level Turnip the Beet Award for Its Summer Meals Program for Schoolchildren


St. Luke’s University Health Network’s  Department of Community Health has earned the 2023 Gold-Level Turnip the Beet Award – the highest level possible – for its Summer Meals program, which provides nutritious, high-quality meals to local schoolchildren in need in the Allentown and Quakertown school districts during the summer months.


Presented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (USDA FNS), the Turnip the Beet Award recognizes outstanding summer meal program sponsors throughout the United States each year. Summer meals are critical in the lives of millions of our nation’s youth, whose risk for food insecurity increases during the summer months when they no longer have access to the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program.


USDA FNS recognized 140 summer meal sponsors throughout the country with Turnip the Beet awards for excellence in 2023. Among the winners, 55 sponsors qualified for a gold award. The St. Luke’s Summer Meals program is one of only two award recipients – and the only health system honored – in Pennsylvania. 


The St. Luke's Summer Meals program was recognized for demonstrating a commitment to serving fresh produce to families, which is provided by St. Luke’s Rodale Institute Organic Farm. In addition to produce from the farm being used in their lunches, families also have the opportunity to take home bags of fresh produce, along with recipes and meal preparation ideas, through the St. Luke's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.


The St. Luke’s Summer Meals program was launched in response to the Network’s 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). Whitney Szmodis, Ph.D., Epidemiologist in the St. Luke’s Department of Community Health, says there has been a 228% increase in meals served to children since the program started.


“When school is out of session, children lose access to the free and reduced-price meals they depend on. We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in the USDA FNS, with support from community-based partners, to bridge the gap in food access for children during the summer months. We are currently in the process of collecting primary data for our 2025 CHNA, and we are consistently seeing food insecurity as a top concern throughout our Network service area. The importance of initiatives like this will continue to be vital to the overall health and development of children in our region,” Dr. Szmodis explains.


St. Luke’s Department of Community Health partners with Catholic Charities in Allentown and Free Fall in Quakertown to provide meals outside the hospital to make the summer meals program more accessible, while also allowing program participants to feel more comfortable.


“For the past several years, St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Hospital has stepped up to the plate to serve free summer lunches to kids in an effort to address food insecurity among families in Allentown. St. Luke’s partnership with Catholic Charities and Sacred Heart Church to distribute the meals is exemplary and the three organizations are a hub of community service to families and children in the 4th and Chew Streets area of Allentown,” says Tina Amato, MS, LDN, RD, Manager, Physical Activity & Nutrition, Allentown Health Bureau.


St. Luke’s Summer Meals program is available for anyone ages 18 and younger. St. Luke’s hosts the program at two locations:

  • H.I.S Service Center (next to Central Catholic High School) at 317 N. 4th Street in Allentown; and
  • Free Fall Action Sports at 670 S. Main Street in Quakertown.


As partners, Catholic Charities and Free Fall help St. Luke’s Department of Community Health organize the program and provide staff and locations. In addition, St. Luke’s Summer Meals receives donor support from West Side Hammer Electric, a division of Hatzel & Buehler, for the Allentown program and from Penn Community Bank for the Quakertown program.


Luke Cunningham, former Chief Executive Officer of West Side Hammer Electric and former St. Luke’s Allentown Campus Board Member, was committed to making an impact in the local community.


“Luke always felt that without a vibrant community, you couldn’t have a vibrant business. That vibrancy starts with the children,” says Meagan Beck, West Side Hammer Electric’s Human Resources Director.


“We are thrilled to support St. Luke’s valuable summer meals program and we are ecstatic with the impressive award it has won from the USDA. We look forward to continuing our efforts to help make sure that the children of Allentown have food security throughout the year.”


Jeane M. Vidoni, President and CEO of Penn Community Bank, says her organization strives to find ways to positively impact its community.


“By supporting St. Luke’s in providing healthy, nutritious meals to local children in need during the summer months, we are ensuring that our children in danger of food insecurity instead receive the nourishment they need all year. Penn Community Bank is honored to be a part of this amazing program and is proud of this well-deserved award,” Vidoni says.


Since the St. Luke’s Summer Meals program was implemented in 2019, there has been a sharp increase in the number of meals served to children, from 1,358 in 2019 to 4,453 in 2023. In 2023, the program also provided 1,177 meals to parents and/or guardians. Since inception, a total of 13,723 meals have been served through the St. Luke’s Summer Meals program.