By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – So far this summer, archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services has distributed more than one million meals and snacks to children at various sites, thanks to the federally funded Summer Food Service Program. Along with the sandwiches, juice, fruit and cookies dispensed, NDS also promotes nourishment of the spirit.

“For the fifth year in a row, we have encouraged the sites to involve the children in peace activities. We sponsor a creative writing and poster contest with peace as the theme,” said Anne Ayella, assistant director for community relations at NDS.

At Sanctuary Christian Day Camp at 59th and Walnut Streets, the annual Peace Celebration on July 31 centered around the Gospel of Matthew and Beatitudes Jesus imparted during the Sermon on the Mount.

Especially relevant to the occasion was Chapter 5, Verse 9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.”

“I liked reading the Scripture about peace because it actually means something to me,” said Brian Rudolph, 8. One way peace can be put into practice by his group, Brian thought, was “by being patient, waiting your turn.”
Cristina Artis, also 8, suggested peace celebrations “make you stop and think, because you can make a difference.”

The idea for the Peace Festival was suggested by Ayella, said Siriboa Pierce, who directs the summer camp that has about 40 children between the ages of 5 and 12. Although her neighborhood is not among the most violent in the city, she thinks efforts like this are a good idea.
“It gets the children involved instead of just preaching to them,” she said.

The Sanctuary celebration was just one of many, Ayella noted. For example, a day camp at Holy Cross Parish in the Germantown section was scheduled to hold a similar festival on Aug. 6, after which paper cranes fashioned by the children would be sent to Hiroshima, Japan.

Overall, the NDS-administered Summer Food Service Program provides 23,000 lunches daily, according to Ayella. “It is a federally funded program through the United States Department of Agriculture, which then goes through the Pennsylvania Department of Education,” she explained. Other local participants include the Philadelphia School District, the Philadelphia Department of Recreation and the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

NDS participation, Ayella said, traces back to the 1970s and the “Sisters’ Summer Program” in which hundreds of women religious, under the sponsorship of the former Cardinal’s Commission on Human Relations, promoted peace in the streets by leading children in organized play at city recreation centers and neighborhood streets.

Today, NDS feeds more children on a daily basis through the Summer Food Service Program than it does through the also-federally funded School Lunch Program during the rest of the year, according to Ayella.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.