Portland Parks & Rec to serve 111,000 free kids' lunches - KPTV - FOX 12

Portland Parks & Rec to serve 111,000 free kids' lunches

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Portland Parks & Recreation has started giving out free lunches to kids in an effort to reduce hunger during summer.

The program launched Thursday. About 150 different venues provide free lunches to kids throughout the Portland area.

The full list with serving locations and schedules is viewable on the Summer Food Oregon website.

According to the city of Portland, 57 percent of Portland-area children qualify for free and reduced-price meals during the school year. To fill the summertime gap, Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) joins with Partners for a Hunger-free Oregon (PHFO), Bank of America, local school districts, and other local businesses to present the Summer Free For All Summer Playgrounds and Free Lunches programs.

The partners have distributed half a million free meals over the last five summers. For the summer of 2015, PP&R and its partners expect to serve 111,000 free lunches, and to provide supervised games and playground activities.

"Hunger is typically not a visible problem, unless you know somebody who's experiencing it," Portland Parks commissioner Amanda Fritz said. "Today we see the faces of American hunger as a single mother forced to skip a meal, as children who don't get the needed nutrients for learning and growing, and as obesity and its accompanying spectrum of physical ailments."

Officials said nutrition is one of the main goals.

"Hunger looks different here than it does in many famine-struck countries,” Annie Kirschner of PHFO said. “Children are not starving, but often the calories they have access to don't provide the nutrients they need.”

Andrea Anderson teaches fourth and fifth grade and observes the threat of hunger in her classrooms.

"The difference between the haves and the have-nots is most clear in the month of May at a Title 1 school," Anderson says. "Children just fall apart this time of year. It is not summer vacation for many of them; summer brings worry, and fear, and hunger."

Anderson attests that an easily accessible summer meal program that provides consistent and healthy meals can make a huge difference in the kids' outlook about summer.

"Not only do their brains and bodies need it, but also when food is in the equation, they get to be like any other kid,” Anderson said. “Plus, it gets them to try new healthy foods."

The business community is one of the big partners

For the second year in a row, Bank of America is the lead financial supporter of the Summer Lunches program, helping to underwrite the program.

"Today's kids are the future of our community,” said Roger Hinshaw, Bank of America president for Oregon and southwest Washington. “It's our responsibility as community leaders to give back to ensure Portland's success for generations to come."

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