A program that provides free daily meals to children from low-income families is under way this week in Columbia. The Lunch in the Park program fills a need that arises when the school year ends. Many children who receive free and reduced-price meals during the school year may not have access to nutritious meals during the summer.
The program, a partnership between the Health Department and the Volunteer Action Center, can serve more than 100 kids each day. Lunch in the Park also provides entertainment and educational activities.
Laura Starjak coordinates the activity groups, and plans to have some kind of entertainment for the kids every day: “It’s so the kids just don’t think they’re coming and standing in line to get lunch," says Starjak. "We’re going to have the Bookmobile here on Mondays, Girl Scouts will be here every Tuesday, Mike from Public works— he’s kind of interesting. He gives them grabbers and little vests and garbage bags and they go around and pick up trash. And he also brings a magnifying thing that has bugs in it and they just love it.”
Voluntary Action Center project director Ron Schmidt says Lunch in the Park fills a need that arises when school ends: “Children on free and reduced lunch get one or two meals a day during the school year that are nutritious but during the summer oftentimes they may go the whole summer without a nutritious meal," he says. "In addition to that there are activities, educational and fun activities, but the main thrust of the program is the nutritious lunch.”
Lunch in the Park is open to all children under the age of 18, and their parents. It takes place every week day at Douglass Park from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. through August 10.