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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 12:33 pm | Fair 61º

 
 
 
 

Foodbank Launching Picnic in the Park Summer Lunch Program

Volunteers and sponsors are needed for each of the 11 city park sites countywide

Nearly 25,000 children in Santa Barbara County get a free or reduced meal every school day — but what happens when school is out?

Eighty-four percent of local children, who rely on school food during the school year, don’t get any type of meal assistance during the summer — a time of critical brain and muscle development. Instead, these kids either go hungry or load up on inexpensive, highly processed, calorie-dense and chemical-based “food.”

This is where the critical work and leadership of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County comes in. Taking advantage of federal reimbursable grants, it is launching its most ambitious and far-reaching program to date — Picnic in the Park: Free Healthy Lunch for Kids.

Picnic in the Park will feed 2,000 children countywide, five days a week, for 10 weeks, starting right after school gets out. Built off the success of the Foodbank’s innovative and award-winning Kids’ Farmer’s Market Program, Picnic in the Park is recruiting local volunteers to help at each of the 11 city park sites countywide — in the lowest income areas that don’t feature other nonprofit food distributions.

Community volunteers will manage and support individual sites, which are open to all children, handing out fresh-prepared lunches, as well as engaging kids with food literacy and fun physical activity. One such activity includes a “Bicycle Blender” in which a blender is attached to the back of a stationary bicycle and the more you peddle the more you blend. Other volunteers will work in donated kitchen sites to help prepare the meals. Keeping with its mission to end hunger through good nutrition, no pre-packaged, highly processed junk will be distributed, but rather, age-appropriate fresh-prepared meals.

Alex Posada, director of the Recreation & Parks Department in Santa Maria, said the department, which is hosting a few of the distributions at Santa Maria public parks, has been trying to do a program like this for years. More than 10 years ago, parks officials noticed that children showing up for their summer programs were coming hungry. Unable to find a vendor to take on such an ambitious program, local kids went hungry during the summer.

“The Foodbank getting this done is great, especially since they are focusing on the most impacted areas,” Posada said. “They will meet the needs of local families, and I hope families will step up and get involved.”

In keeping with the goal of including local leaders to help with each site, the Foodbank has solicited the support of Monica and Joe DeVreese of Santa Barbara Running and Kids Corner to help with the physical activities at each site.

“We are thrilled to be a part of the Picnic in the Park program this summer by developing the physical activities for the children,” Monica DeVreese said. “We believe that encouraging exercise through fun, team-oriented physical activities is a wonderful complement to the nutritious meals the children will be receiving and sets the tone for a lifetime of healthy living for these children.”

The Foodbank needs volunteers and site sponsors. Volunteer trainings are happening in May. To volunteer in the North County, contact Claudia Ruiz at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 805.937.3422 x109. To volunteer in the South County, contact Diane Hadighi at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 805.967.5741 x112. To sponsor a site, contact Jane Lindsey at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 805.967.5741 x101. Click here for more information.

— Gina Fischer represents the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.

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