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Joe Dang is a business banking assistant vice president at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

COURTESY PHOTO - Joe Dang is a business banking assistant vice president at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. For kids, summer should mean carefree days by the pool, riding bikes and having fun. But for two-thirds of Portland's youths, the break from school is a break from regular meals.

Families who utilize free or reduced-priced meals during the school year may struggle to provide meals during the summer, leaving as many as 50,000 of Portland's children facing food insecurity, which refers to a household's lack of available financial resources for nutritious food.

This issue is a complex problem, exacerbated by issues such as unemployment, underemployment and Portland's ever-increasing cost of living. Many local families are struggling to access basic necessities and are faced with tough choices, such as whether to buy food for the family or pay the utility bill that month. These circumstances can create a painful paradox for many families: While there's more time for family and fun as school ends, the summer break interrupts crucial access to nutritious meals.

Fortunately, a vital Portland Parks & Recreation Summer Free For All program called Free Lunch + Play helps bridge this gap throughout the city, allowing kids to spend the summer having fun along with the guarantee of a free lunch with supervised games and sports each day.

My little brothers and I were beneficiaries of the Free Lunch + Play program as children. As a single father, my dad raised three boys in the St. Johns neighborhood of North Portland. The program gave my family the resources we needed to spend our summers creating happy memories.

Today, as a commercial banker for Bank of America Merrill Lynch in Portland, I am in a position to give back to my community. My employer has sponsored this program for seven years and donated more than $268,000 to Portland Parks & Recreation, with much of that support earmarked for Free Lunch + Play. We are committed to strengthening the communities where we operate and believe partnerships are critical to advancing solutions to complex challenges we face as a community. With backing from generous private sector partners — including Bank of America — this public program serves more than 100,000 free, nutritious lunches each summer to local children.

The commitment my employer makes is deeply personal. When I began volunteering with the Free Lunch + Play program as an adult, I remembered how much I looked forward to the lunches as a child before swimming the afternoon away at the Pier Park pool. Today, as an active member of Bank of America's Community Volunteers network, I am the liaison between the bank and Portland Parks & Recreation to coordinate volunteer shifts for Free Lunch + Play. Along with my teammates, we have volunteered hundreds of hours and helped to raise awareness of this vital program.

Securing volunteers from throughout the Portland area is crucial to the ongoing success of Free Lunch + Play. My colleagues and I are joining Commissioner Nick Fish and companies across Portland to double down on the investment of time and resources for the Summer Free For All program. Please join us.

The children we help today are the nurses, teachers, entrepreneurs and bankers Portlanders will rely on in the future to maintain the economic vitality of our region. Building our city to be socially, economically and culturally vibrant begins with making sure that no child goes hungry over the summer, all families have access to nutritious food and all kids have safe spaces to play.

To learn more about the Free Lunch + Play program, visit the Portland Parks website: www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/69873

Joe Dang is a business banking assistant vice president at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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