Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District: connecting people, parks and nature THPRD centers, Rec Mobile serve up free meals and smiles to children

by Bill Evans13-THPRD-afterschool-program-2016-by-THPRD-Staff

About 15% of Oregon residents lack regular access to affordable, nutritious food in sufficient quantity. Historically, the state has one of the higher food insecurity rates in the nation. Over the past decade, THPRD has emerged as a reliable meal source for those who need it most. The district is expected to serve more than 50,000 free meals to Beaverton-area kids in need this year.

“The quality of food that kids are getting affects their growth and development,” said Lynda Myers, supervisor of THPRD’s Cedar Hills Recreation Center. “When kids have proper nutrition, they’re more sociable, they’re energetic and better behaved. It makes quite a difference.”

The district’s Rec Mobile, one of its primary community outreach tools, has been instrumental in THPRD’s service to undernourished neighborhoods. In the summer of 2009, the program partnered with Beaverton School District to serve nearly 2,000 free summer lunches at Center Street Park.

The Rec Mobile continues to support the school district’s USDA-funded Summer Food Service Program, providing recreational activities at several apartment complexes and other low-income sites where free meals are served.

In 2012, Cedar Hills became a mobile host of the program. More than 5,000 meals were served that summer, and the number has increased each year. Myers said she expects Cedar Hills to serve about 12,000 meals this summer. No registration or fees are required for anyone 18 and under to receive a free lunch. Anyone over 18 can purchase a lunch for just $3.

Another USDA program has enabled THPRD to exponentially expand its ability to bring nutrition to those who need it most. The district now provides healthy meals and snacks, at no cost, to participants in afterschool programs.

Conestoga Recreation & Aquatic Center began participation in the program in 2014. Both Cedar Hills and Garden Home Recreation Center followed within the past year.

The program will serve about 40,000 meals during the school year, Myers said, Kids are getting nutrition, and THPRD staff is enjoying an ancillary benefit — a dramatic decrease in behavioral issues.

“The director of our afterschool program could see an immediate change, within the fi rst week,” Myers said. “It’s had a calming effect. Kids are more patient with each other. We have fewer incidents of aggression.”