Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas serving free dinner at 18 schools, with more to come

ST. PETERSBURG — Callie Tetzel tipped back a container of milk and drained every last drop under the watchful gaze of her mother.

Jessica Tetzel didn't eat. She comes early every day to Sexton Elementary, though, so she can sit with her daughter while the 6-year-old enjoys a hot dinner, courtesy of the Pinellas County School District.

This time, dinner was a Philly cheese­steak, salad, pineapple and milk.

"I'm like, 'You eat better than I do,' " Tetzel joked.

Under a new program announced in July, the school district has started serving free hot dinners to students at low-income schools. Students in after-school programs who used to get a snack — graham crackers and some juice — can now get a full meal, too. Their parents can join them, if they pay for their own meal.

Suzette Burns, principal of Sexton Elementary, said some parents work two or three jobs, making it tough to get dinner on the table at an early hour. Some students would eat lunch at 11 a.m. and not get another meal until 7 p.m. or later. Others didn't get dinner at all.

The school already offered breakfast and lunch.

"I think it's great that we can offer one more meal with healthy food," she said.

Sexton was the first school in Pinellas to get the program, which is being phased in throughout this school year. Eighteen elementary and middle schools are serving dinner now — about 2,000 to 3,000 hot meals a day — with 15 more schools slated to start by December. By spring break, the number could be 60 to 65, said Lynn Geist, assistant director of food services.

To qualify for the program, schools must have at least 50 percent of students on subsidized lunch. The federal government reimburses Pinellas for the cost of the dinner program.

Students who participate receive hot sandwiches, juice or fruit, a vegetable and milk. Dinner typically is served between 5 and 5:30 p.m., Geist said.

Some families at Sexton opted out of the program, saying they preferred to eat dinner as a family. Other children were picked up before dinner was served. Of 80 students at the after-school program last week, about 57 were served dinner on Tuesday.

The hot meals have been popular with students.

Nathaniel Apollo Jacob, 6, took the cheese off his Philly cheesesteak Tuesday, adding it and a helping of ketchup to his salad. He eats all three meals at school, he said.

Donte Whiting, 10, said "everything is good except for the salad."

Tetzel said the dinners have been nice for her family. She hasn't been able to get dinner made until 6:30 or 7 p.m. each day, which is long after her daughter's 11 a.m. lunch time.

"It's just nice because she's not starving," she said.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at or (727) 893-8846. Follow @Fitz_ly on Twitter.

Pinellas serving free dinner at 18 schools, with more to come 11/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 4:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Before Janessa Shannon's death, parents traded accusations of abuse


    TAMPA — Long before Janessa Shannon's remains were discovered in a Hillsborough County nature preserve, her parents tried to convince court officials that she was in danger.

    From her own family.

    Janessa Shannon, 13, was found dead July 12 in the Triple Creek Nature Preserve in Hillsborough County. [National Center for Missing and Exploited Children]
  2. Ronde Barber: Want intimidation? Look at past Bucs teams


    Ronde Barber says these days "it's hard to find throwbacks, where you go, 'That guy is a badass.' Where do you find that now? It's such a show-off sport." (Times 2012)
  3. ICYMI: Florida education news in review, week of July 16, 2017


    Seems like Broward County has started a domino effect. It was the first school board to commit to filing a lawsuit against the state and its controversial education bill, House Bill 7069. Then, the St. Lucie County School Board signed on, too. A running tally of school boards that have reportedly expressed interested in …

    Kali Davis (left), training director for Springboard to Success, helps to coach Justin Black (center), who will be starting his third year of teaching PE at Melrose Elementary, as he works to instruct students in a math lesson during the Spring Board program of Summer Bridge at Woodlawn Elementary School in St. Petersburg.
  4. In advertising, marketing diversity needs a boost in Tampa Bay, nationally


    TAMPA — Trimeka Benjamin was focused on a career in broadcast journalism when she entered Bethune-Cookman University.

    From left, Swim Digital marketing owner Trimeka Benjamin discusses the broad lack of diversity in advertising and marketing with 22 Squared copywriter Luke Sokolewicz, University of Tampa advertising/PR professor Jennifer Whelihan, Rumbo creative director George Zwierko and Nancy Vaughn of the White Book Agency. The group recently met at The Bunker in Ybor City.