Angelina Betone, 6, enjoys her lunch at the Boys & Girls Club of Lompoc Valley.
As part of its effort to reach out to children in Lompoc, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County is currently offering free, healthy lunches around town this summer.
The Foodbank took over the Summer Food Service Program — called Picnic in the Park — this year when the Lompoc Unified School District was unable to continue it in 2014 due to remodeling efforts, said community programs manager Kyli Gallington. The program is an extension of a national school lunch program put on by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Foodbank started its temporary program in June and will only be filling in for this summer, Gallington said. The program lasts Monday through Friday and will end Aug. 8. The four sites offering free lunches include Anderson Recreation Center, the Boys & Girls Club of America, the Lompoc Family YMCA at La Honda Elementary and Coast Valley Substance Abuse Treatment Center.
One reason the Picnic in the Park program is so important is because Lompoc has the highest percentage of children experiencing food insecurity in the county, Gallington said.
“Food insecurity is looking at, ‘are you able to have enough food to cover a family?’” she said. “Has anyone had to skip a meal because there wasn’t enough food to feed the entire household? It’s higher in Lompoc than anywhere else in the county. That tells us that, as a foodbank, we really need to target Lompoc for all of our children’s programs.”
The lunches are open to the public, and children up to the age of 18 may attend the Picnic in the Park lunches without registration, Gallington said. Several of the sites have seen consistently high numbers in attendance, she said.
“When this opportunity came up, we were more than happy to step in,” she said. “In the absence of (the LUSD), it’s been great to be able to fill that need.”
Another important aspect of the Picnic in the Park program is ensuring that children are provided healthy food, Gallington said.
“We want to make sure good and healthy food is available,” she said. “We want to make sure there’s a good source of food for all the children in Lompoc. We’re happy to be in Lompoc this summer, and we think kids are enjoying the program.”
Through the Orfalea Foundation, the program will also begin offering free food literacy classes for kids this Friday, Gallington said. The Picnic in the Park sessions generally offer both food and site activities, so the class will accompany the program, she said.
Recreation Manager JoAnne Plummer said many children do not have the opportunity to eat nutritious meals when they are out of school, which was one of the reasons the school district started the program.
“A lot (of them) aren’t getting proper nutrition,” Plummer said. “Whether or not they’re having a healthy lunch, or lunch at all, this fills that gap for both.”
For more information about the Picnic in the Park program, call the Anderson Recreation Center at 875-8100 or contact the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County at foodbanksbc.org.
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