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As many of Centre County’s most beloved summer events are canceled due to COVID-19 precautions, other events are rising up to provide fun — yet still safe — ways for communities to gather. The first-ever Millheim Food & Fun Walk is one such event, taking place from 12:30-3 p.m. Saturday in downtown Millheim.

“Originally, the Millheim Fire Company carnival was set for the same day,” said one of the event organizers, Rebecca Larsen. “That’s something the Penns Valley area really, really looks forward to. The kids always look forward to that carnival. It’s a great one and gets a good turnout and supports the fire hall.”

The Millheim Food & Fun Walk, Larsen said, will offer locals a similar style of event, with family-friendly food and fun, but structured differently to address social distancing concerns. The event will similarly mirror one of the benefits of previous years’ Community Bite dinners, at which the nonprofit, founded by Larsen, provides 200 to 250 free meals to the community in a social setting.

The Millheim Food & Fun Walk begins at the Millheim Fire Company, where attendees will receive a free to-go dinner and map to guide them through the walking event. Children will receive a free, donated toy. Approximately 20 different local businesses and organizations are involved, including Larsen’s Gather & Co. Catering company, Inglebean Coffeehouse and Coburn Giving Tree.

“At the fire hall, we’re doing a barbecue meal with barbecued local chicken and turkey and cornbread, and a coleslaw with local salad greens, that have all been donated. … Elk Creek Cafe is handing out these smashed french fries they do. The Millheim Hotel is handing out chocolate mousse. The pizza shop is handing out garlic knots and slices of pizza,” Larsen said.

Each stop on the walk will offer something different, whether it’s food or fun, and everything is free. Additional food will be available for purchase, and local musicians will be set up at different stops along the walk, playing acoustic sets.

To keep the event as safe as possible, organizers have connected with all participating small business owners and discussed controlling the flow of traffic along the walk. Event maps ask attendees to be respectful of others and mind their distance. Those cooking the free meals distributed at the fire hall will follow the same precautions that professional kitchens follow on a daily basis, Larsen said, with only three people in the kitchen at one time. Directional arrows around downtown Millheim further help direct attendees.

“The idea is to just have this feeling of community in a fun and safe environment. It’s bringing people together, outside, in a way that kids can have some fun. They can get some toys they can use for the summer, get their minds away from the virtual classes and get them outside …” Larsen said. “It’s definitely a community event that can help provide people with not just one meal of nourishment, but a feel-good vibe all around and a focus on the kids.”

The free event is fueled by the donations from local businesses and farms, with contributing farms including Pole Cat Hollow Farm in Howard, Strong Roots Organic Farm in Woodward, Over the Moon Farm in Rebersburg and Spring Bank Acres Farm in Rebersburg. Organizers are still accepting donations for toys — those interested in donating should email Larsen at gatherandcopa@gmail.com.

Already, Larsen and other organizers are looking at the potential of having another similar event in the fall.

“The best thing we can do, regardless of whether we’re in good times or bad times, is to be together as a community, and now not necessarily how we have been in the past,” she said. “For me, my outlook on things is (on) trying to find positive ways to adjust and I think that’s what we’re doing right now — trying to find positive, safe ways to still be together as a community, a little differently than how we used to be, but still keep it focused on being happy and healthy and having some fun.”

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