Food programs in Idaho gear up for Picnic in the Park

John Hartpence brought his two kids to Boise’s Borah Park for lunch on Wednesday. The Picnic in the Park program there is a good way for his children to get a healthy meal and exercise on the playground, he said.

And, he added — as kids of all ages queued up behind him, waiting for hard-boiled eggs, bananas, turkey sandwiches and milk — it also helps with expenses. The shipping clerk said his family spends about $100 each week for food, and the program saves them about $20 a week that can go to gas or other household needs.

Picnic in the Park offers any child up to age 18 a free lunch regardless of family income, no questions asked.

The program’s mission is to fill the summer food gaps for kids who get free and reduced-price lunch during the school year. The 18 sites across Ada County are strategically located near schools, such as Hawthorne, Garfield, Jefferson and others, where a large percentage of kids get food assistance during the school year.

The food bank wants to serve 1,100 children each weekday this summer, twice as many lunches through Picnic in the Park as it did in 2010. Executive Director Karen Vauk said the goal is ambitious but still answers only a fraction of the need. During the 2010-11 school year, 9,956 students in the Boise School District were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

More than 21 million children in the U.S. receive free and reduced-price meals during the school year, but only 3 million of them use summer meal programs.


Idaho does better than the national average in reaching hungry kids in summer, according to the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force. But Vauk said the food bank staff wanted to do more and started strategizing last year about how to feed more children in 2011, its 11th year.

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