Students at St. Martha Parish School in Northeast Philadelphia line up for meals offered through the National School Lunch Program, Oct. 14. Archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services administers the federally funded initiative at more than 100 schools throughout the five-county Philadelphia area. (Photo by Courtney Flach)

Lunch took on a new flavor Oct. 14 for students at St. Martha Parish School in Northeast Philadelphia.

Before kids tucked into their food, Father Alexander Masluk, pastor of St. Martha Parish, blessed the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s school meals program, marking the start of National School Lunch Week.

St. Martha recently joined more than 100 area schools that partner with archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS), which administers the National School Lunch Program throughout the five-county metropolitan area.

“Kicking off this week with a blessing is a wonderful way to recognize all of our partner schools,” said Brooke Mullen, assistant director of community relations for NDS.

Father Alexander Masluk, pastor of St. Martha Parish, blessed the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s School Meals Program, marking the start of National School Lunch Week, Oct. 14. (Courtney Flach)

Mullen also commended the schools’ “dedication to serving a healthy breakfast and lunch to their students each day.”

Funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the program provides children with free or reduced cost school lunches that provide one-third of the recommended daily calories and nutrients. Each meal consists of an entrée (including protein and whole grains), a fruit or 100% fruit juice, a vegetable and low-fat or fat-free milk.

In Pennsylvania, the program is administered through the state’s Department of Education, which in turn partners with agencies such as NDS to deliver the meals at the local level.

Created in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, National School Lunch Week promotes the importance of a healthy school lunch in a child’s life and the impact it has inside and outside of the classroom.

For 2019, the School Nutrition Association, which coordinates the observance, selected the theme “School Lunch: What’s on Your Playlist?” to highlight the increased choice and customization now available in school cafeterias.

NDS, a Catholic Charities Appeal beneficiary, serves nearly 17,000 lunches to children in the Philadelphia region every day.