Arts and Entertainment

Picnic in the park lunch program set to kick off this month

Vashon kids are invited to participate in a new picnic in the park program that will include free lunch and activities three days a week this summer.

The program, called Edra’s Picnics in the Park, is being offered by the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank but is open to all children ages 3 to 17, according to food bank Executive Director Yvonne Pitrof.

“This is about supporting kids whoever they are,” Pitrof said.

Beginning June 23, the program will meet at noon  Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Ober Park, and organizers are hoping to offer — along with lunch —  a variety of possible activities: juggling workshops, bubble wand fun, soccer clinics and more. The Vashon Library is also involved in the program and hopes to offer story time on Wednesdays, Pitrof said.

Offering free lunch programs for kids in the summer is a growing trend for food banks, and something Pitrof and others at the Vashon food bank have wanted to do for some time. Although Vashon does not qualify for federal funds for such a program, as some communities do, there is a definite need on the island, Pitrof said. Twenty-three percent of the island’s students receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school year, which works out to some 300 Vashon kids, Pitrof said.

When summer comes, it means those families have 10 meals a week per child added to their budgets. This can cause a strain, Pitrof said, and when lack of food is combined with the typical amount of knowledge lost over the course of a summer, kids often fail to thrive.

“You get children that are far more prone to fall behind their peers and not live up to their full potential,” she said.

With that in mind, the food bank raised funds for the  program last fall, with a goal of $15,000. While they did not raise all of that amount, they did raise enough, she said, and are in the midst of hiring a coordinator for the program, organizing activities and lining up volunteers —more of whom are still needed.

Early on in the planning process, Pitrof said, organizers decided to welcome all kids to the lunch program, regardless of their families’ economic situations, something she feels is important in a community of mixed income levels so that no one feels either stigmatized or excluded. Those who share in the meal and are able to support the program can simply donate some money to the program’s tip jar. Or families can make a lunch and come join in. She hopes the all-inclusive approach will help create the atmosphere she is looking to foster: people simply having fun together in the park.

While organizers are still working on the program details, they are hoping to get the word out to as many people as possible. Regardless, Pitrof said, she has no idea how many people might come, and expects the program will grow partially by word of mouth, and they will have to be able to respond accordingly.

“We are going to be learning every day that we are there and fine tuning as we go,” she said.

The first day, she said, they will be prepared with food for 50, with kids eating first and then the adults if there are leftovers.

Pitrof said a host of volunteers are still needed — people to help with lunch preparations, those who can help at the park and people to plan and run activities. High school students can earn community service credit for assisting, she said, and if a group of friends or a family would like to come and run activities, they would be welcome.

Pitrof added that while many island kids take part in camps and classes, those are out of reach for other kids, and activities offered could help address that disparity.

The program is named after longtime food bank volunteer Edra Haynes, who was enthusiastic about a summer food program, but died last year, before she could see it come to fruition, Pitrof said.

“It’s meals, but it’s more than that. It will give kids more than we know. We can give kids some opportunities,” she said. “This is something we can do as a community for our kids in the community.”

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