Two government-sponsored summer food programs are ramping up their efforts to bridge the nutritional gap for Pinellas County students after the school year ends.
Summer Break Spot provides students 18 and younger with two meals a day Monday through Thursday. The program is part of a larger effort by the U.S. and Florida agriculture departments to help families who rely on free and reduced-priced school lunches most of the year.
In an expanded program this year, Summer Break Spot began distributing meals at nearly 140 schools, churches, community centers and nonprofit organizations the Monday after school let out in June. Last year there was a weeklong gap between the last day of school and when Summer Break Spot began, leaving some students in the lurch.
"We wanted to close that this year," said Lynn Geis, assistant director.
Students can have either breakfast and lunch or breakfast and a snack. The program distributes 6,000 to 8,000 lunches a day, Geis said.
Students not enrolled in the program also can receive free meals at the sites as long as they are 18 or younger.
To help keep children safe and close to home, food trucks will be introduced at five apartment complexes throughout Pinellas this summer.
In addition, to help families get through the weekends, any student who receives a free or reduced-price meal during the school year can receive prepackaged meals from a pilot program funded by the Juvenile Welfare Board and the Public Defender's Office. That effort, which started Friday, distributes meals at nine elementary schools — Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Melrose, New Heights, High Point, Belleair, Sandy Lane and Tarpon Springs.
"We know that (students) have some significant food needs, and those needs don't stop when class stops on Friday," said Matthew Spence, special product and content manager of the JWB. "They continue through the weekend."
Partnering with Organization Nourish to Flourish, the JWB distributes meals with a fruit and a vegetable, a main course and milk or juice. Each student receives two meals, both of which can stay fresh for a longer time if not immediately eaten. The JWB estimates it will provide nearly 35,000 weekend meals this summer.
"As long as it's nutritious, it's good," said Carey Barber of St. Petersburg, who was picking up his niece Friday from a summer program at Campbell Park Elementary. The girl receives weekend meals from the JWB program.
To get information on either program or to find a meal location, visit jwbpinellas.org or summerfoodflorida.org.
Malena Carollo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8510.