ZEPHYRHILLS — The baskets were assembled with young students in mind:
Macaroni and cheese. Peanut butter and jelly. Canned goods and simple items that kids could make for themselves.
Members of several East Pasco Rotary clubs gathered Saturday to package about 400 food baskets for children heading off on summer break — children who rely on free or reduced-price meals during the school year.
"This is all new within the last 12 months or so," said Robin Murray, who helped coordinate the effort. This group of Rotarians also organized and provided baskets during the winter break.
"Last Christmas, we donated 450 baskets," Murray said, "and in those baskets we included two canned hams."
More than half the children in Pasco schools — 52 percent to be exact — qualify for free or reduced-price meals, according to the school district. That's an 8 percent spike over two years ago.
In real numbers, 34,598 students relied on free or reduced-price meals this school year. Rotary members wanted to help stock some of those families' pantries for the summer break.
They collected donations to create the baskets, then dropped them off this week at about two-dozen east Pasco elementary and middle schools. School officials handed them out to students in need.
"We don't go out seeking specific students' families," Murray said. "Once we give them to the schools, it's up to the them to provide. This respects the confidentiality and privacy of the families."
The Rotary clubs behind the drive are known as the Eastside 8. They are the Rotary clubs of Land O'Lakes, San Antonio, Wesley Chapel, Wesley Chapel Sunrise, Zephyrhills, Zephyrhills Day Break, Dade City and Dade City Sunrise.
"Our goal is to form a bigger footprint in the community by joining forces, rather than each individual club working alone," said Mike Wootton, assistant governor of the Zephyrhills Day Break group.
The Rotary motto is "Service above self." Rotarians are known for advocating polio vaccines and helping provide impoverished countries with clean water and immunizations.
But the Eastside 8 also want to help closer to home.
"We (Rotarians) have two goals" Murray said. "First is to help out people in need, and second is to build good will among people."