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Monday was a perfect day for lunch in the park, sunny with a slight breeze and temperatures in the low 80s.

The attire at the South Park picnic shelter was swimsuits and shorts. The menu included nachos or peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, celery, pineapple bits and milk.

A steady line of noontime customers, mostly children, walked through a cafeteria-style line to pick up disposable trays filled with their food choices. Then they retired to four picnic tables, decorated with green and yellow plastic table cloths, to eat.

The scene was repeated at five other parks throughout Billings where employees of School District 2’s food-service program served young patrons. The Lunch in the Park program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides free lunch to children 18 and younger.

Adults can get lunch for $2.50.

This is the sixth full year of the program, said Steve Harris, summer food service program manager for the school district.

“The

details Lunch is served weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. at North Park, South Park, Pioneer Park, Central Park, the Boys and Girls Club and Arrowhead/Crow Park. Meals are free for children 18 and younger, and cost $2.50 for adults.

The program will continue through Aug. 17, with the exception of this Wednesday and Thursday, July 4 and 5, the only two days that lunch won’t be provided.

For information about the Lunch in the Park program, call 255-3550.

intent of this program is to be an extension of the regular school lunch program provided during the school year,” Harris said. “It’s a way of ensuring children have an opportunity to receive a nutritious meal during the summertime.”

Business is good again this year, he said.

“The initial indicators look like the numbers are above where they were last year,” Harris said.

Last week alone, 4,000 meals were served in the six parks — possibly the most meals served in one week, he said.

“If the numbers continue where they were last week, we could see over 25,000 meals served this summer,” he said, above last year’s figure of 24,000 lunches.

Meals are prepared at West High and then delivered in two trucks to the six park sites where they served by the summer-lunch employees. After lunch, the trucks pick up the equipment and any leftover food.

Harris said the program goes beyond serving food.

“We also try to provide other activities that will have an interest for the children,” Harris said.

At opening-day parties in June, the Nutrition Coalition handed out nutrition information along with prizes. Volunteers from the Retired Senior Volunteers Program also will visit lunch sites to read stories, and other activities are being lined up, Harris said.

Most important, he said, is the program makes food available to all children — especially those who might not be able to afford healthy lunches during the summer months.

“Without question, it is a very worthwhile program for the community of Billings,” he said.Susan Olp can be reached at 657-1281 or at solp@billingsgazette.com

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