Summer is typically considered a time to enjoy cool treats while soaking up the hot sun. It may be hard, then, for some to believe that summer means hunger for many children. 

In just Santa Barbara County alone, 1 in 5 children are at risk of hunger, and more than 34,000 countywide participate in a free or reduced-priced meal program. During school, these children are provided with approximately 10 meals per week. Once school lets out for the warmer months, however, these meals are eliminated.

In order to counteract this, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County has offered the Picnic in the Park program for the past five years. The program provides and distributes over 35,000 nutritious meals (over 700 meals per day) for 2,500 local low-income children. In addition, physical activities and educational services for children, families and the public about healthy eating and staying active are provided.

“The Picnic in the Park program provides a vital service to families through the summer,” said Erik Talkin, Foodbank CEO. “When school lets out for the summer, children still have a need for good nutrition. In fact, only 16 percent of children in our county who receive free or reduced-priced lunches during the school year receive any meal assistance during the summer.”

On Friday, the Foodbank kicked off the program at the Veteran's Memorial Park in Santa Maria. With around 200 kids in attendance, the children enjoyed a healthy meal and energy-packed activities such as hula hooping and soccer. 

"I love seeing how enthusiastic the kids are," said intern Caty Drewniak. "It's a great time for all of the kids, and I love that we get to teach them about nutrition. Each meal includes something from each food group. There is a fruit, grain, protein, milk and more."

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Peter Dettelis brought his 6-year-old son Christopher to the event after reading about it in the Recreation and Park's Department summer calendar of events. 

"It's a great chance to play under supervision -- my son jumped right into playing soccer. I encourage this to continue throughout the summer; it's a great program," he said. 

The Foodbank is trying to reach a goal of $50,000 by the end of the month to fund the program until August. The organization already has received a $25,000 anonymous donation, and officials hope it will be matched. 

For more information or to make a donation, visit endsummerhunger.org or call 937-3422. 

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