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Picnic In the Park: Free Lunch, Books, Kickball, New Friends and Plenty of Sunshine

"I don't know if there's a better collaborative effort than this."

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A tiny strawberry-blonde girl ("Yesterday was my 5-year-old birthday.") was too busy to talk. She was nibbling on some crackers, while a 9-year-old boy, sitting across the picnic table in southeast Boise's Ivywild Park, said he was a fan of the milk ("It's nice and cold.")

The kids, from a neighborhood preschool, were among the first in line Thursday afternoon as the Idaho Foodbank launched another season of its highly successful Picnic In the Park outreach, bringing more than 60,000 meals to children in the Boise metro area.

"I don't know if there's a better collaborative effort than this," said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter. The city's Park and Recreation Department is a key partner in the summer feeding program, with neighborhood parks playing host to 18 of the 27 summer feeding programs. "Getting kids moving, reading, making good friends and developing healthy habits ... this just gets better every year."

Additionally, one of the Picnic in the Park partners, the Idaho Commission for Libraries, will be rolling in mobile libraries to enhance the summer park program.

"A lot of the volunteers return year after year," said Sarah McDonagh, a Vista AmeriCorps worker. "It might be a little hot outside but, you know, it's worth it. Plus, there's shade."

And finding some shade under an Idaho Foodbank tent were three more volunteers, dishing out Thursday's free lunch: Rita Langley ("I love seeing the children."), Connor Wall ("I grew up nearby, in Columbia Village and I love giving back to my community.") and Nathan Knowles ("We've got tuna today, plus crackers, celery sticks, fruit and milk.").

Other partners include the Boise School District, the Idaho State Department of Education and Old Chicago Restaurant.

"As the kids are eating their lunches, we begin some interactions ... some small talk, asking them about their plans for the summer and whatnot," said Old Chicago's Marty Zahn. "Then, it's just natural to ask them to play some games."

Foodbank officials remind us that "hunger doesn't stop when the school year ends" and an estimated 91,730 children in the state suffer from hunger.

"But summer shouldn't be a time of worry or sadness for Idaho's children," said Karen Vauk, president and CEO of The Idaho Foodbank.

And it was all smiles Thursday afternoon at Ivywild Park.

"We'll definitely be back throughout the summer," said the daycare operator, and her charges aged 4 to 9 devoured their lunches before running off for a game of kickball.

  • Kelsey Crow