Amid warmer weather, students turn to picnics to build community, explore aesthetics


Esther Lim/The Daily Northwestern

Lily Lee shopping for flowers. Lee founded Unipicnics, which aims to provide luxury-level picnic services to students at an affordable price.

Joanna Hou, Assistant Campus Editor

With the sun returning to campus, several students are taking to the Lakefill with blankets and picnic baskets filled with fruit and crackers. 

The cold from this past winter helped Medill freshman Isabela Lisco discover a newfound appreciation for the outdoors. Lisco, who is from Los Angeles, said she ate outside daily at home because the weather was “always nice.” 

“Because of the extremes here, the warmer weather when it does come feels just better,” Lisco said. “I’m so excited to be outside. Having a meal outside is something novel and exciting.” 

Communication freshman Morgan Barber said she’s excited to picnic in the warmer weather.

Barber, who is from Chicago, said she used to picnic in a park near her home. During quarantine, she gathered outside on towels with friends. Half her group would order food, while the other half supplied drinks and desserts, she said.  

“It was a nice way to see my friends while not being put at risk,” Barber said. “It’s just nice now to get to know that I’m out of the house and with my friends and enjoying their company.”

For McCormick and Bienen freshman Lily Lee, students’ love for picnics presented a business opportunity. This spring, Lee launched Unipicnics, a small project giving students and Evanston residents the opportunity to go on preplanned picnic dates. Her service provides groups of two to six picnic baskets filled with food, games and crafts to rent for two hours. 

Lee’s venture started after she saw luxury picnics pop up on her social media feeds. When choosing aesthetics for Unipicnics, she said she relied on a combination of Pinterest inspiration, her own love for event planning and student feedback. She surveyed students on their preferred picnic aesthetics and found traditional picnics won above all others. 

Her business aims to provide high-quality events in an affordable price range, Lee said. In preparation, she’s purchased varied picnic baskets and activity supplies. 

“If you were to hire a picnic rental company, they can charge up to thousands of dollars for these services,” Lee said. “I wanted to make sure that my picnics would be much affordable to students and allow them to make fun memories with their friends.”

Some students, however, like McCormick sophomore Marcos Rios, enjoy planning picnics for themselves. Rios started planning picnics his freshman year, and his themes have ranged from lunches to hammock picnics. 

Most recently, Rios hosted a moon picnic for his friends, where they set up blankets by the lake at night and watched different movies. 

“It is really truly a way to engage in your environment and truly spend that time being present with your friends,” Rios said. “You’re there with just your friends, your food and the sun … and really just having no cares but enjoying yourself.”

This weekend, Lisco is attending a taekwondo club picnic, where she and her teammates plan to work out by the beach and then lay out a spread of foods to enjoy together. 

She said in the grand scheme of the college experience, academics play a small role — the communities students create are “everything.” 

“We mostly see each other so sweaty and gross and trying our hardest and exhausted after a long day,” Lisco said. “Seeing everyone on the beach, more fresh and enjoying food and meals together, is a way to socialize and then get to know people outside of the sport.” 

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Twitter: @joannah_11

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