Ellen Jones, left, and Nathan Rutledge, right, work as volunteers for a free lunch program at Fred Beeman Park in Island City on Tuesday. Jones and Rutledge are among approximately 30 volunteers who are making it possible to extend a free federally funded lunch program to Island City. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
Free federally funded lunch program for children extends into Island City this summer
ISLAND CITY — The late Fred Beeman, the namesake of Island City’s community park, was a man revered for his community service.
This summer the popularity of the Island City park is growing thanks to about 30 volunteers who share the spirit that made Beeman one of his community’s most popular citizens.
Free lunches for all children under the age of 18 are being served at Fred Beeman Community Park each weekday for the first time by approximately 30 volunteers, who are making it possible to extend a free federally funded lunch program to Island City.
The volunteers transport food prepared by cooks at Riveria Activity Center in La Grande to Beeman Park each weekday.
“A lot of kids who could not make it to Riveria can now eat lunch in Island City,” said Jeff Hensley, assistant director of Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, which runs the food program in La Grande and Island City and four sites in Wallowa County.
Hensley decided to add Beeman Park to the lunch program after Barbara Hicks of La Grande and Carlene Crampton of Island City approached him earlier this year offering to transport meals from the Riveria Activity Center to Beeman Park.
“I jumped at (the chance they provided),” Hensley said.
Hensley then took the organizational steps necessary to make the Island City meal site a reality. Criminal background checks were conducted on those who applied to be volunteers, and food serving training was provided. The training allowed volunteers to receive the necessary state permits.
An average of 21 children are now coming to Beeman Park each day for lunch and sometimes as many as 50 show up. At Riveria, the daily average is 115.
The average at Rivera is about the same as a year ago, indicating that the new Island City site is filling an important void. Hensley said that the unchanged numbers at Riveria indicate that children eating at Island City are not individuals who were coming to Riveria to eat lunch last summer, something that surprised Hensley.
“I had expected a little drop-off at Riveria,” Hensley said.
Hicks said the new Island City lunch site is filling an important need because it is hard for children in Island City to get to the Riveria Activity Center for lunch. Hicks noted that public bus service from Island City to La Grande is limited. The bus comes into Island City only as far as Walmart, which is on the western edge of Island City.
Hicks said she doubts that many parents would let their children walk that far to board the bus.
About two volunteers a day transport and serve food at Beeman Park. They include Ellen Jones, a secretary at La Grande Middle School, which has many students from Island City. Her job has inspired her to step forward and assist the site at Beeman Park.
“Since I work at the middle school, I know how many kids are in need,” Jones said.