The playground at Victory Square Park in Hermiston was a hive of activity Friday afternoon, but that changed as soon as a white van pulled up to the curb.
The lunch lady is here! shouted Yesenia Ursua, 13, and everyone clambered down from the playground equipment, racing to the pavilion where a Parks and Recreation employee hands out free lunch at 12:45 p.m. every summer day.
Nine children lined up behind the cooler, grabbing a squirt of hand sanitizer before picking up a sack lunch comprised of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, carrot sticks, oranges and milk.
These are really good, said Anjelica Osorio Ursua, 11, after she had settled down on a park bench.
The daily lunch at Victory Square Park is one of several options for free lunch that are open to anyone under 18 all summer. This particular lunch was provided courtesy of the city of Hermiston, but Hermiston School District also provides free breakfast and lunch at West Park Elementary.
Diana Picard, the citys recreation coordinator, was helping hand out sack lunches at Butte Park Friday. She said the free lunches are an offshoot of the Oregon Department of Educations Summer Food Service Program. Through that program, the city and school district provide hundreds of free meals each day to children around the city.
The meals are open to any child, no questions asked, although they were designed with children from low-income families in mind.
Theres a gap between kids who get free lunch from school and then where they get that lunch during the summer, Picard said. We want to help fill that gap.
She said the Parks and Recreation department makes 225 lunches a day in the cafeteria of Sunset Elementary and then hands them out around town. In order for the city to get reimbursed for the food, meals must include a protein, whole grain, fruit, vegetable and milk.
Adriana Ursua, mother to Anjelica and Yesenia, said her kids come down to the park most days to get a nutritious lunch and then get some exercise running around on the playground.
Its less work for us moms, she said. Instead of making lunch every day we can just take them to the park.
If children want a hot lunch instead of a pre-packed one, they can go to West Park Elementary at 11:30 every day. On Friday the staff of Chartwells School Dining Service, which provides Hermiston School Districts food service, were handing out chicken patties on whole wheat buns along with fruits and vegetables.
Lori Dutcher said she usually serves between 80 and 100 children each meal. Many of them are part of a migrant summer program, but she gets some walk-ins every day.
Its always a good, nutritious, hot meal, she said.
According to a 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one out of every five children in America doesnt have consistent access to adequate food. Studies have shown episodes of childhood hunger can hinder physical growth, brain development, academic performance and social behaviors.
The federally funded, state-administered Summer Food Service Program began in 1968 as a means to combat child hunger.
Free meals for children are offered throughout Hermiston Monday through Friday until August 15 at the following locations:
Sunset Park at 11:30 a.m., Sunset Elementary at noon, Butte Park at 12:15 p.m., Hermiston Aquatic Center at 12:15 p.m., Victory Square Park at 12:45 p.m., and West Park Elementary at 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.