COVINA — When Amy Duran was planning the first company picnic for the 250 employees of Decor Concepts Inc., she found an unlikely caterer.
After looking everywhere in a 10-mile radius of the company's Arcadia location, she hired the city of Covina to handle the arrangements for the picnic, held at Covina Park.
"It was a real success," said Duran, a purchasing coordinator for Decor, which designs interiors for fast-food restaurants. "I know that people left there with a good feeling about the park and they would go back."
Duran said it was so successful, in fact, that she intends to hire the city again to put on the company picnic next year.
What started three years ago as a program to control activities in the popular park on San Bernardino Road has turned into a public relations coup for the city.
Under the program, the city will put together a picnic at any of its 11 parks, complete with everything from table decorations and food to sports equipment and even a bartender or a disc jockey.
Depending on what a business wants, the city will act as a middle man to provide such things as food and beverages. The city already has the baseballs and bats and employees to perform such chores as serving food and decorating the tables. All the services are provided at cost.
"We're not trying to make a profit," said Kenneth Herron, director of Community Resources for the city. "It's very service-oriented.
"We've kind of expanded the role from what a normal recreation department would provide its citizens," said Herron, adding that he does not know of any other city that offers a similar service.
"We got into this to resolve overcrowding of the park, to help us offset maintenance costs," Herron said. "There was no intention to improve the overall business development of the city. A positive side is that we've developed some really positive public relations."
Some business owners agree, including Sherry Ralsky, who used the city to plan a grand opening when the company she and her husband own moved to Arrow Highway in Covina from Grand Avenue in Glendora.
The city planned a 1950s theme party for the 6-year-old business, including music of the bobby-sox era.
"I had no idea the city could provide us with something like this," said Ralsky, who, with her husband, Daniel A. Ralsky, owns SGV Medical Supply.
"It gives a good rapport between the city and business."
For several years, the city has been arranging grand openings and open houses for businesses that were involved with the Covina Development Agency. The city now plans to make that service available to all businesses, said Stacey Marteeny, coordinator of the program.
The city generally uses part-time city employees to staff the picnics and grand openings, where they do everything from setting the tables, cooking hot dogs and hamburgers and cleaning up afterward to supervising games or arts and crafts activities.
"It seems like a natural because it's a resource we already have, and companies are becoming more aware of their employees and their needs," Marteeny said.
The city has arranged about 55 picnics so far this year, up from 17 when the program first started three years ago. The number of picnics would have been greater this year had it not been for a shortage of some equipment, such as picnic tables, Herron said.
Up until now, the city has relied on word of mouth to promote the service. But Herron said the city will start to advertise the program and offer other services, such as providing aerobics teachers to companies and helping to start day-care centers.
And Herron said he will ask the City Council to provide money to buy more picnic tables.
"I anticipate some growth," Herron said. "Each year we've seen more acceptance."