Wednesday, February 21 , 2018, 2:47 pm | Fair and Breezy 59º

 
 
 
 

Free Meal Programs Feed Hungry Local Children During Schools’ Summer Gap

Foodbank of Santa Barbara County teams up with school districts on community initiative, which now includes an exercise activities

Siblings eat free apples and turkey sandwiches served by the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County as part of summer Picnic in the Park events. Click to view larger
Siblings eat free apples and turkey sandwiches served by the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County as part of summer Picnic in the Park events.    (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

An elementary school student took a huge bite out of a red apple while sitting on a park bench at the Storke Ranch Apartments in Goleta.

The apple didn’t seem extraordinary to the young girl, but the program allowing her to eat it — and a free turkey sandwich along with a carton of milk — is one that many Santa Barbara County residents view as worthwhile.

For the fifth year, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is providing its “Picnic in the Park” summer food program for needy children under 18 who receive free or reduced-price meals as part of the National School Lunch Program for low-income youngsters.

That’s 84 percent of county kids, or more than 34,000, according to the Foodbank, which has coordinated the program with the Santa Barbara Unified School District and the Community Action Commission since 2011.

The program kicked off at lunchtime Monday in a park at Storke Ranch Apartments, one of four South Coast locations. The rest are in Santa Maria.

Along with free lunches, Picnic in the Park encourages physical activity through a new “passport to prizes” program, which allows children who regularly attend to opt into sports or enrichment feats like Frisbee and games to earn pieces.

“We really serve a lot of kids,” said Foodbank project coordinator Bethany Stetson, adding that 3,000 children were fed 34,000 lunches last year.

The Foodbank will serve the meals filled with fresh fruits and vegetables Monday through Friday for 10 weeks.

Another local option for those looking to bridge the summer hunger gap is growing at the Santa Barbara school district, which has increased the number of free lunch sites to eight this summer from four when it launched six years ago.

The district’s Summer Food Service program, which runs through Aug. 15, served more than 70,000 meals last summer, according to staff.

Picnic in the Park summer events now include physical activity components, in addition to the free lunches it provides children throughout Santa Barbara County. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)
Picnic in the Park summer events now include physical activity components, in addition to the free lunches it provides children throughout Santa Barbara County. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Locations with lunch — from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday — include La Cumbre Junior High School, McKinley School, Ortega Park mobile café and Harding University Partnership School.

Four locations are even open the same hours on Saturdays — Franklin School, Westside Boys & Girls Club/Bohnett Park mobile café, Oak Park mobile café and Parque de los Niños​ mobile café on Wentworth Avenue.

All also serve breakfast from 7:30 to 9 a.m. except Oak Park, Parque De Los Ninos and Ortega Park.

Other Picnic in the Park South Coast locations include Villa de la Esperanza Apartments in Goleta, Estero Park in Isla Vista and Dahlia Court Apartments in Carpinteria.

“The program is so needed in this community,” said local attorney Catherine Swysen, who for years has helped raised funds for Foodbank programs via the Santa Barbara Women Lawyers’ Association.

An anonymous local donor apparently agrees, having pledged a $25,000 donation to the Foodbank if the nonprofit can raise the remaining $25,000 to fund future summer food programs.

Click here for more information about that effort and the Picnic in the Park program, or visit the End Summer Hunger campaign website.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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