2018-06-01 / Shorts

Picnic Pop-Ups

Free lunch program will feed hungry kids this summer in area parks
Robyn Passante

Summertime should be nothing but carefree for kids. For those who received a free or reduced lunch (and sometimes breakfast) during the school year, however, not having easy access to nutritious food can leave bellies empty and minds full of stress instead of fun.

This year the Healthy Bodies Project at Penn State is partnering with the Summer Food Service Program to take a big bite out of that problem by offering free lunch pop-ups each weekday from June 18 through Aug. 24. Meals will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis to all children without charge — and with no need to demonstrate eligibility like showing a SNAP benefits card or parents’ ID.

“We’re setting up in locations deemed eligible by census data, where over 50 percent of children qualify for free or reduced lunch,” says Catie Simpson, the Summer Food Service Program coordinator. “So because the area is eligible, anyone under 18 who shows up is eligible for free lunch.”

This takes the stigma away from children who need the food but feel ashamed among their peers who don’t. The lunches, which follow school lunch guidelines, will include two types of sandwiches to choose from plus fruits, vegetables and protein snacks.

“The goal is to have two options for every single component besides the milk, so the kids feel like they’re autonomous and they’re making the choices, so they’re more likely to eat it,” Simpson says.

Her salary and the food itself are paid using grants from the Department of Education and the USDA.
And if a parent shows up with a child, the parent is welcome to have lunch too.

“We are choosing to serve adults who are with their kids, but we are not being reimbursed for that,” she says. “It’s just something where we just want to feed people.” Depending on the response, they might reach a point where they ask for a $2 donation from adults who’d like to partake in the meal. That would be a good problem to have, Simpson says.

“The more people we see, the more money we get. So if we demonstrate the need, then hopefully next year we can expand.”

Simpson is working on finding partners in the community that can commit to hosting a game or fun interaction with kids who show up for lunch, in order to amplify the experience.

“It is about getting a nutritious lunch and free food, but it’s also about normalizing that need,” she says. A stretching or yoga session for kids, a STEM-building activity or a simple craft would be great. And every day there will be outdoor toys and balls available at the parks for families to be active together too.

“There is more of a need in State College than people realize,” she says.

To volunteer to host an activity, get in touch with Simpson at or (814) 321-1818.•SCM


Tudek Park
400 Herman Dr., State College
Noon to 1 p.m.

Schlow Centre Region Library
211 S. Allen St., State College
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Orchard Park
1060 Bayberry Dr., State College
Noon to 1 p.m.

Abba Java Coffee House
299 Locust Lane, State College
Noon to 1 p.m. (until Aug. 11)

Tudek Park
Noon to 1 p.m.

Blue Spring Park
230 Wagner St., Boalsburg
Noon to 1 p.m.

Abba Java Coffee House
Noon to 1 p.m. (until Aug. 11)

Orchard Park
Noon to 1 p.m.

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