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Open Link Expanding Summer Food Program
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Write

            Relying only on private financial donations, The Open Link is providing an expanded meal program this summer. Utilizing several thousand dollars, the multi-service agency serving the greater Upper Perkiomen Valley has added three stops to its program, which provides meals to any child 18 or under for free.

            On Monday, utilizing a newly purchased van, the Pennsburg based organization launched its eight-week Grab-and-Go Meal Program at Treichler's Mill Park in Hereford and Bieler Park in East Greenville.

            The following day, they handed out bags of food at three new locations in Pennsburg (Pennsburg Commons), Red Hill (Hope Valley Community Church) and Green Lane (Isaac Smith Park). Food will be distributed at each location twice a week through Aug. 14, meaning children will have the opportunity to receive four meals a week.

            Many recipients are kids who are expected to participate receive free or reduced breakfast and lunch during the school year, according to Kelly Chandler, The Open Link's Development and Communications Manager.

            "When they're home for the summer, it's hard for their families to provide for more mouths to feed," Chandler wrote in an email.

            The agency expects to increase the number of meals it donates to kids by a magnitude of 10, according to Executive Director Stuart Bush. He said it handed out 500 meals overall last year and that approximately a quarter of that total had already been delivered in the first hour of the current eight-week program. Bush estimated the entire cost of the meal program, which is based on a similar program run by the Upper Perkiomen School District in the spring, at $25,000.

            Each bag of food contains four meals, two nutritionally-balanced breakfasts and two lunches, intended for two children.  Breakfasts can consist of a muffin and fruit to yogurt or cereal with milk and juice.

            Lunch will vary from a turkey and cheese sandwich to French bread pizza. Each will include a side item, such as whole-grain Goldfish crackers or pretzels and vegetables or fruit with juice and milk. Some meals are ready to eat and some will be best reheated in a microwave or toaster oven.

            Previously, the agency utilized a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to run the program. However, The Open Link was hoping to expand the program to serve more children in the lower end of the Valley. According to Bush, multiple high-dollar donations from anonymous residents – combined with a generous donation from the employees at Lechner and Stauffer Insurance, of Pennsburg – along with the purchase of the van from the Community Bible Fellowship in Red Hill, is allowing the program to expand.

            "The community has been fabulous," Bush said early Monday afternoon near Bieler Park. "I feel blessed. I know how generous this community can be."

            According to Bush, Open Link officials discussed expanding the food meal program in January. He said the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March pushed up the timeframe.

            "The situation has become more dire," Bush said. "We want to be part of the help that gets people through this tough time."





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