When it comes to learning, hunger is a common roadblock for far too many children. It's an issue addressed in part by the federally funded free and reduced-priced meal program and weekend outreach programs supported by local organizations, churches and civic groups.
"We know that during the school year the breakfast and lunch that kids eat at school are often the only meals they eat all day," said Cindy Norvell, area specialist for the food and nutrition program.
That's true during the summer, too.
Mobile lunch programs are up and running at Gulfside, Hudson and Pasco elementary schools. And from now through August, the table is being set at more than 50 sites as the Pasco County School District's Summer Food Service Program gets under way, offering breakfast and/or lunch.
"It's required by the USDA, but we want to make sure the children get fed," Norvel said, adding that program has been expanded to meet a constant need.
In 2011 the daily average of children being fed was 3,372, Norvell said. In 2012 it was 3,596.
Over the summer months, free meals will be offered to children 18 and younger at various county parks and recreation centers, churches, Boys and Girls Clubs and schools where 50 percent or more of the children qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
Hot meals will be on the menu in school cafeterias, but it will be a brown bag kind of offering at outreach sites.
"As opposed to the school year we're limited in what we can offer, but it's still a nutritionally well-balanced meal, Norvell said. "We're really excited about reaching all these children. Our goal is to make sure they all have a meal."