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By Diane Huber | Lacey Today
Playground Pals - Lacey Parks and Recreation's free summer lunch and activity program - is under way, and busy parents say it provides just the relief they need.
"My husband's in the Army. He's gone all the time. For me to have somewhere that's safe to leave them while I run errands - I think I'll use it at least once a week," Becky Davis said.
She plans to takes her two kids, 6 and 8, regularly to Lydia Hawk Elementary School, one of three schools where the program is offered. Pleasant Glade and Mountain View elementary schools also offer the program.
From noon to 3:30 p.m. daily, children up to age 18 can eat a free lunch, and children 6 to 14 can stay and participate in crafts, organized games, movies and other activities.
The meals are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program, which was created to ensure children in lower-income areas could continue to receive nutritious meals when school is out.
As of May 2006, about 4,400 students - 33 percent - in North Thurston Public Schools qualified for free or reduced lunch. Schools offering the program were selected because 50 percent of the students attending qualify for free or reduced lunches.
"It's important for our community to keep up that stability for them. ... For some children, this is the biggest meal they get during the day," Lacey recreation supervisor Kathy Owen said.
Last year, nearly 15,000 lunches were served at the three sites, Owen said. Anyone 18 and younger can eat for free, and parents can join their children for $3.
The free lunch helps out Windy Garcia, who brought her three kids ranging from age 7 to 11 to the program last week.
"I don't have to worry about every day what to cook," she said.
Tammy McConnachie agreed that the lunch service is appreciated.
"Food's so expensive these days," she said.
A single mother, McConnachie also relies on the free program "because I don't have anybody to fall back on," she said.
Sarah Wright said the program offers a distraction for her two kids while their father is deployed in Iraq. The absence is especially hard for 4-year-old Andreas - an active boy who climbs up poles on the playground jungle gym and is named after his dad. Wright's husband's tour of duty was extended, and he won't be home for good until next summer.
"He's little. He doesn't understand how long a year and a half is," she said of her son.
Diane Huber covers the city of Lacey and its urban growth area for Lacey Today. She can be reached at 360-357-0204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: Playground Pals is a free drop-in program for children up to age 18 that includes free lunch. Children younger than 6 must be accompanied by a parent.
When: From noon to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through Aug. 17.