Lunch in park provides for kids | NevadaAppeal.com

Lunch in park provides for kids

Teri Vance
tvance@nevadaappeal.com

Shannon Litz / Nevada AppealFood for Thought volunteers Sarah Layer and Cecile Critchfield pass out lunches at Park Terrace Park.

Every day, Rocio Alonzo takes her 6-year-old twin daughters along with two neighbor girls to the park for lunch.

They sit at a picnic table in the shade and eat their sandwiches and fruit, and then go off to play a game, read a book or draw.

“We like to come here because the kids get to have fun with other children,” Alonzo said in Spanish. “And they’re fed.”

It’s all part of Food for Thought’s pilot summer program, which distributes free lunches on weekdays to anyone ages 2-18 in Park Terrace Park next to Empire Elementary School.

Stephanie Gardner, executive director of the nonprofit that discreetly provides meals over the weekends to students in need during the school year, said the area was ideal to test the summer program.

Empire Elementary School makes up 200 of the 700 students at 13 schools who qualify for the Food for Thought meals, Gardner said.

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“These are the kids who really need it,” she said, telling of one boy who came for lunch and said he hadn’t eaten a meal since the lunch provided the day before.

She said the site also was selected because of its sense of isolation. With no bus to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Nevada, she said, many children in the area are left home alone while their parents work. The park is a central location.

“These kids walk to the park,” she said. “They’re really from that neighborhood.”

While Food for Thought mostly operates on private donations, the summer program is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition to lunch, there also are activities planned throughout the week, including art projects, soccer games and books offered through the Carson City Library.

“We can eat lunch and play with people who don’t really have that many friends,” said Destiny, 10. “The ones who are on the swings alone.”

Cecile Critchfield and John Spielmann serve the meals each day, with other volunteers rotating in daily.

They started with about 30 kids a day and hit their peak at 115. Critchfield said they now serve an average of 50 to 70 children per day.

“It’s very rewarding,” she said. “Normally, we just pack the food and we don’t see the kids. We’ve gotten to know a lot of them.”

Gardner said the program will continue next summer and may expand.

In June and July, 2,753 meals were served. Although final numbers haven’t been calculated, she said, at least 1,000 were served in August.

“I would say it’s been a success,” she said.