Several bagged lunches lay out on a table. The door to Erb’s West-End Market and Catering in Newberry swings open and a crowd of kids piles in, loading up on bags and juice before scurrying out again just as fast.
It’s a daily occurrence at Erb’s, and many other restaurants in the Northcentral, Pennsylvania region that are doing their part to make sure kids don’t go hungry during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Throughout Lycoming County people, businesses and nonprofits are coming together to help each other, and restaurants all over the region have opened their doors to provide lunches for local kids.
“We thought, what can we do? We can cook,” said Cara Erb, owner of Erb’s. “They are our friends, our family.”
As schools closed and parents lost their jobs, the need for food increased. Kids who would have normally received lunch at school were left wondering where to go.
“You don’t know what they’re getting at home. It might be their only meal of the day. It’s important we do it for them,” said Jennifer Rauke, bartender at Johnson’s Cafe in Montoursville.
For many area restaurants, stepping up to do their part for low-income kids was an important and vital task. But even as they made the decision to help, others came forward as well, bringing donations of food and money in support of the free lunches.
“I’m used to people coming to me to get donations, I’m not used to people coming to me and bringing me donations for stuff,” said Melony Hartranft, owner of Mel’s Cafe and Deli in Montoursville.
At Erb’s, community members stop by with lunch items and businesses donate food. The restaurants never asked for donations, Erb and Hartranft said, but it was a welcome surprise nevertheless.
School has now been canceled statewide through the rest of the school year, but the restaurants plan to keep providing free lunches as long as they are able.
“As long as we keep getting support with our business … We’ll keep doing what we can,” Erb said.
Some of the restaurants, like Johnsons will take orders in advance and have specialty orders ready for the kids when they arrive. Others have a set meal each day with bags ready to grab.
At first, Hartranft remembers the kids showing up with trepidation, unsure if they should come in. But now they have regulars who come back often and are always happy for food, or even to get out of the house for a short walk.