On yet another warm early afternoon in Boise's Winstead Park, a group of children played a couple of games of Duck, Duck, Goose before ducking under some trees for shade to enjoy a picnic lunch.
The noontime nutritious respite on July 18 was just the latest Picnic in the Park, courtesy of the Idaho Foodbank, a program designed to supply Boise kids with healthy lunches and activities during the summer.
One in four Idaho children are classified as "food insecure," meaning they lack essential nutrition from regular meals. While most of these children can rely on free and subsidized meals during school terms, over the summer break, this resource disappears.
Picnic in the Park was established 13 years ago to help fill this gap.
"Of all the kids in school, half get some assistance, either free or reduced-price lunch," explained Idaho Foodbank's David Proctor. "So there's obviously a need for something in the summer, when there was no program, and so that's how it started. We've gotten better at it as the years have gone by. The first few years, we were serving a few hundred kids, and this year, we're going to be serving between 50,000-60,000 meals."
On July 18th's menu was tuna with whole wheat crackers, celery sticks and apple slices, and a choice of regular or chocolate milk. Every day sees a different lunch handed out, from hard boiled eggs to the perennial childhood favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
This summer, the program has already served more than 30,000 lunches to area kids. To celebrate the milestone, the program is introducing a new aspect of the scheme, engaging kids in physical activity and teaching them about staying healthy. The curriculum for the activities is arranged by Boise State students, including Health Education Promotion major Andrea Rice.
"Today, we're going to play some kickball," Rice told BW. "One of the chief goals for the curriculum is to educate kids about staying healthy, not only engaging them in games and sports, but also educating them how and why this benefits their health. It's something they can do on their own or with their families," said Rice. "It's not just for playing here, they can take it home and play with their friends and family."
The curriculum also gives the program some uniformity.
"All the volunteers who follow can open up [the curriculum] and say, 'This is how we do it,'" added Proctor. "We always tried to do [activities] before, but it's been kind of hit and miss."
Mary Ann Liby, a nutrition specialist at Idaho Foodbank, explained that one of the reasons for the bigger milestone events like the one at Winstead Park was to help raise awareness of the problem of food-insecure children.
"Though some families are receiving help from the federal government, there's a high percentage that's ineligible to receive any, and they don't really have any avenues to receive help aside from public charities like the Idaho Foodbank." She added, "We know that we can reach more kids, way more."
The program currently serves lunches Monday through Friday at 24 locations throughout the city of Boise, ranging from low-income neighborhoods to family parks like Winstead. Proctor explained that Boise Parks and Recreation "just opened their doors for us."
"It's a well-rounded partnership throughout the community," added Liby.
Local businesses have also assisted in the effort, with Thursday's volunteer roster bolstered by staff from Old Chicago Pizza (which also donated money to the Foodbank for every staff volunteer), among them Tara Torres.
"We're trying to get the kids involved and active," she said, and the kids definitely seem to enjoy themselves.
"Why do you like to come to the park?" one volunteer asked a child, after settling down from a game of tag.
After a moment's thought, he enthusiastically replied, "For lunch!"