The New Bedford Parks, Recreation and Beaches Department will continue its annual tradition of the Play in the Park and Summer Food Service programs to offer fun activities and healthy meals for kids this summer.

The program runs from June 26 through August 25 at 24 parks, playgrounds and housing sites across the city. It takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Each site will be staffed by local youth to hand out nutritious lunches and host recreational, arts and crafts, and educational activities for children under the age of 18. The lunches and the activities are free of charge.

"It really addresses the food insecurity in our area. For some kids, it'll be the only healthy meal they get during the day," said Alexandrea Matthews, Programs and Events Manager for the New Bedford Department of Parks, Recreation and Beaches. "They have access to healthy meals throughout the school year, but when school's out, it's really important to still be able to provide that meal to them."

Matthews said she doesn't know why it's so hard for children to continue to get nutrional meals at home.

"It's hard to say. I think a lot of factors come into play," Matthews said. "I know in this area, there are some families that are low-income, so they're not able to have access to those healthy foods."

Last year the Department of Parks, Recreation & Beaches served over 94,000 free meals to children and has received awards over the last two years for statewide recognition of its continued outstanding achievement in providing the Summer Food Service Program in New Bedford.

"Not only do we provide the meals, we also have kids activities going on for the youth in the city," Matthews said.

In addition to being something of nutritional and recreational value to the children of New Bedford, it's also a valuable learning experience for older kids.

"We also employee a lot of the teens in the city. For them, it's their first job experience. It gives them some income over the summer and somewhere to be, and something productive for them to do," Matthews said. "They really get to give back to their community by interacting with the kids, doing different sports and games with them, and being able to provide them with those healthy meals."

The summer programs are federally funded through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Community Development Block Grant with support from Project Bread. The Department of Parks, Recreation & Beaches will partner with community organizations to bring a variety of activities to each site.

Two kick-off events will take place on June 28 at Magnett Park, and on June 30 at Ashley Park. Both events run from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m and will feature special family activities.

Anyone interested in taking part in the Play in the Park or Summer Food Service Programs can contact the Department of Parks, Recreation and Beaches at (508) 961-3015, or by visiting their Facebook page.

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