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Hundreds gathered at Mills Kiwanis Park Tuesday to enjoy a free meal and a variety of activities at the summer lunch program Park & Play kickoff event.

Sixty-five percent of K-12 students in Klamath County are enrolled in the free or reduced-price lunch program, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

With school out for summer, those children don’t have access to those free, daily meals. That’s where the free summer lunch program comes in.

The program provides free meals every weekday to children under the age of 18. In addition to the food, they also have the opportunity to play and learn with other children at select Park & Play activity sites.

Food & fun

The kickoff event was packed, with activities offered all over the park. Community partners had booths, including a Dutch Bros. Coffee tent which handed out drinks.

The kids got to play football, throw Frisbees and blow bubbles with police officers. They learned about nature from representatives from the Oregon Department of Forestry and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. There was also a massive game of tug of war, with participants including children of all ages, police, firemen and even Klamath Falls Mayor Carol Westfall.

In a speech addressing the crowd, Westfall said, “Thank you to all the organizers, participants and sponsors of the Park & Play summer program. I thank you all for offering healthy activities for our children and their families.”

The program is organized by the Child Hunger Coalition of Klamath County. Main partners include Integral Youth Services, Klamath County School District, The City of Klamath Falls and Klamath County, Oregon Tech, Sky Lakes, the U.S. departments of agriculture and education.

The Klamath-Lake Counties Food Bank is also a partner, it provided grilled fruits and vegetables for all to try at the kick-off event, and will provide produce for children to take home at Park & Play sites.

A safe place

“You’re building neighborhoods and communities as a safe place for learning, participating in summer lunch program accessibility in Park & Play’s five sites throughout our Basin,” Westfall continued.

Lunches are being provided in numerous Klamath County community locations, and there are five Park & Play sites. A map with information about lunch sites and schedules is available at www.summerfoodoregon.org/map.