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The schools are closed for the summer, but the city is seeing to providng free lunches for kids needing them

DAVID F. ASHTON - Woodstock resident Kimberly Barbara, flanked by her kids Elizabeth and Theodore, told THE BEE shes thankful for the Portland Parks Free Lunch + Play program. Now, and throughout the rest of the summer – the ending date has yet to be set – Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) is once again hosting food and fun for children in parks and other areas on most weekdays, calling it "Free Lunch + Play".

"This year in addition to the free meals at lunchtime, or during the early afternoon, take-home activities are being offered, too – such as art kits, activity packs, free books, and games," explained the PP&R Summer Free-for-All Supervisor, and the "City of Portland Emergency Coordination Center Food Security Lead", Chariti Montez.

"Like here, at Mt. Scott Park today – our programs are providing both a breakfast and a lunch in one bag – the lunch for 'now', and the breakfast for tomorrow morning – free to each kid, up to 18 years old," Montez told THE BEE. "Due to COVID-19 coronavirus concerns, we're encouraging families to take the meals off-site – or they may still be eaten in the park, with appropriate social distancing. The child doesn't even need to be present; a parent or guardian can come pick it up, and take it home to them."

PP&R has been providing prepared meals for youngsters in the summers since back in the 1970s, she said – "Because at least 50% of the children in these areas go to schools that are eligible for free or reduced-fee lunches. In the summer recess, they don't have access for those meals, so we are here to fill that nutrition gap.

"Due to COVID-19, we're seeing that 'food insecurity' is one of the major repercussions of this pandemic – it's five to eight times greater than what it would be normally."

Although there aren't any group activities provided, PP&R hasn't forgotten about the "Recreation" part of the Bureau's name, Montez assured. "We know that play is important as food! Providing creative play helps them be better students when they get back to school, for example.

"We're starting off with 'Grab-and-Go Activity Kits', each one containing all of the materials needed to do an art or play project." Later in the year, the program will provide recreational items, such as jump ropes and foot bags, to keep kids physically engaged.

All art kits, activity packs, free books, games, and activities are designed so that participants can maintain six feet of physical distancing at all times while enjoying them, she said.

Inner Southeast Portland "Free Lunch + Play" park locations include:

· Essex Park – S.E. 76th Avenue and Center Street; Monday through Thursday, from noon until 1p.m.

· Harney Park – S.E. 67th Avenue and Harney Street; Monday and Friday, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

· Mt. Scott Park – S.E. 72nd Avenue and Ramona Street; Monday through Thursday, from noon until 2 p.m.

For more information, go online – www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/69873


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