The Madison School District’s Summer Food Program has added a site at Elver Park, and the free lunch there now comes with a side of composting worms — or at least a lesson about them.
REAP Food Group is leading expanded educational activities along with the meals at Elver and two other program sites, with a different theme each week such as nutrition, active living, sustainability and local foods.
The lunches at Elver are served in the picturesque shelter next to the splash park where a few participants headed after on a recent day. Natasha Smith, REAP farm-to-school program director, said the water feature is a bonus to the location.
“The idea with the Elver (site) is hopefully to get some more walk-ins and families in that neighborhood,” Smith said. “We are always bringing an educational side to things.”
Elver Park is one of about 10 locations added this year to the program, bringing the total to about 50. It is distinct from the schools, churches, community centers and other parks where the program operates because there is no other programming at Elver. Instead, Smith said, it was chosen for the program because it is an area of need.
In addition to the new meal site at Elver Park, the Summer Food Program is now providing free meals for adults there and at Lake View and Leopold elementary schools.
The city is donating the use of the Elver shelter and is funding the adult meals. The Summer Food Program is free to anyone age 18 and younger and to adults eating with children at the three sites.
At a recent lunch some families had come to utilize the program at Elver Park specifically because of its location. Shaya Schreiber said they live closer to another food program site in Marlborough Park but gravitated to Elver one day after going to the splash park. Her daughter, Keja, also attends a camp nearby, and Schreiber likes the site’s educational activities and that it’s open a bit longer than some others.
“It’s more quiet,” added Schreiber’s son, Kyen, who will be a third-grader.
Keja, who will be a fifth-grader, so enjoyed the day the children made envelopes from recycled magazine pages that she repeated the activity at home.
REAP has been introducing fresh local produce to students via the Summer Food Program since 2014, in addition to the roughly 10 years it’s offered a lunch and snack program during the academic year.
All of these increased efforts, which also include more signage and other promotion of the sites, are the result of more planning and greater collaboration this year. The mayor’s office and public health and parks departments joined the school district and REAP in the planning process this year.
Another community partner is Midvale Baptist Church. The church has been a site for the lunch program, and now church members and staff are receiving the meals there and transporting and serving them at Elver.
Church member David Woldseth said he is using vacation hours he earns at his job to take a long lunch hour every week to help at Elver because he sees it as a way to serve God.