Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

There is such thing as a free lunch, aboard Gulfside school bus in Holiday

HOLIDAY

Carissa Newman could hardly believe her luck. She and mother, Brenda, pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Lakes West Civic Center on Wednesday to find a school bus that looked more like a cafe, complete with tables, chairs and — best of all — free meals.

"Yes! Oh my gosh!" The 6-year-old ran on board, sitting at a table with her mother and tearing into a lunch that included a super submarine sandwich, milk, fruit, Carroteenies and dip. "This is cool!"

Carissa enjoyed her feast aboard the Gulfside Mobile Dining bus, a free summertime lunch service for kids that operates from a home base of Gulfside Elementary School. The bus has five stops every weekday throughout the Holiday area while school is on break.

A child does not have to be a Gulfside student, or even a pupil of Pasco schools, to enjoy a meal on the air-conditioned school bus-turned-roving cafe. They don't have to preregister or meet certain income requirements to participate, either.

"They just have to be a kid," said Gulfside Elementary principal Chris Clayton, who administers the lunch bus program. "If the parents want to drive them in from Pinellas or another county, they will be fed."

Although this marks the first year for the lunch bus program, the concept evolved from another federally funded free lunch program that debuted last summer at Gulfside Elementary and other sites throughout Pasco County.

"Some of our kids don't know where their next meal is coming from," said Clayton. "I see some kids running to the front of the lunch line, and some hoarding food to take home to their parents and siblings."

Still, Gulfside administrators reported low attendance last summer.

"We only had three to five kids per day," said Clayton. "So we asked our PTO staff to help us get more meals out to the kids by delivering them to neighborhoods in the area."

By the end of the summer, 500 meals had been served, both at Gulfside and in surrounding neighborhoods. And although pleased with this success, Clayton began to brainstorm a way to make the program bigger and more effective.

And pretty soon he figured that only a bus could hold the widescale lunch program that realized his personal vision.

"The district provided us with a converted school bus," he said. "The kids can sit at tables and chairs and eat with each other, like at a dining booth."

And aside from handing out food, Clayton and other school officials will be giving out free books to students on the bus starting next Wednesday.

"So in addition to getting a meal, they can learn something too," he said.

The bus, staffed by Pasco school employees, sometimes draws up to two dozen children at each stop, many of whom line up to await the bus' arrival.

"The kids get so excited, then think they're going to a restaurant," said Theresa Lewis, Food and Nutrition Services summer assistant with Pasco schools. "We serve each one a good sized nutritional round meal."

Kids sit and talk with their friends as they enjoy foods that range from ham and turkey sandwiches to peanut butter and jelly, pretzels to apple sauce.

Best friends Madeleine Cottrell and Danae Romanelli, both 9, appreciate the social time afforded by the lunch bus experience, as well as the variety of foods offered on the bus.

"We have breakfast and dinner stuff at home, but this is lunch food," said Madeleine.

"Free food!" is what drew Angelina Torres, 8, to the bus. And mother Danielle Fink appreciates the service.

"I think it's a very good idea," said Fink. "Although the need for free food is not an issue in my house, I know that there are some families around here who do have that need. And if the parents are at work, this gives the kids a place to go and be with their friends."

Cindy Norvell, a FNS area specialist for the Pasco school system, says 53 percent of all Pasco students qualify for free or reduced-price meals during the school year. It's closer to 85 percent among Gulfside Elementary students.

"We've been thinking for two years about how about we could get the kids fed during the summer," she said. "With his idea, Chris Clayton showed us how we could get it done."

Norvell hopes to expand the lunch bus program to other areas of Pasco County.

"Even when the kids aren't in school, we still worry about them getting enough to eat," she said.

The Gulfside Mobile Dining bus runs weekdays through Aug. 3 throughout the Holiday area. Anyone under 18 is welcome to come and have a free lunch at any of these sites:

• 10:45-11 a.m.: Holiday Lakes West Civic Center, 2728 Holiday Lake Drive.

• 11:15-11:30 a.m.: Holiday Lakes Estates Civic Center, 3628 Atlantis Drive.

• 12-12:45 p.m.: Westin Oaks Apartments, 1251 Westin Oaks Drive, off Alt. U.S. 19.

• 1-1:15 p.m.: Corner of Roselawn Drive and Lange Road.

• 1:30-1:45 p.m.: Corner of Orange Drive and Bonita Road.

For information call Gulfside Elementary at (727) 774-6000.

>>fast facts

Free lunch on bus

The Gulfside Mobile Dining bus runs weekdays through Aug. 3 throughout the Holiday area. Anyone under 18 is welcome to come and have a free lunch at any of these sites:

• 10:45-11 a.m.: Holiday Lakes West Civic Center, 2728 Holiday Lake Drive.

• 11:15-11:30 a.m.: Holiday Lakes Estates Civic Center, 3628 Atlantis Drive.

• 12-12:45 p.m.: Westin Oaks Apartments, 1251 Westin Oaks Drive, off Alt. U.S. 19.

• 1-1:15 p.m.: Corner of Roselawn Drive and Lange Road.

• 1:30-1:45 p.m.: Corner of Orange Drive and Bonita Road.

For information call Gulfside Elementary at (727) 774-6000.

There is such thing as a free lunch, aboard Gulfside school bus in Holiday 06/20/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 5:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 'Empire' star Grace Byers keynotes USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy luncheon

    Human Interest

    BY AMY SCHERZER

    TAMPA — The first University of South Florida graduate to address the USF's Women in Leadership & Philanthropy supporters, Grace Gealey Byers, class of 2006, centered her speech on her first name, turning it into a verb to share life lessons.

    Grace Byers, University of South Florida Class of 2006, stars on the Fox television show Empire. She delivered the keynote at the USF Women in Leadership and Philanthropy luncheon Friday. Photo by Amy Scherzer
  2. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other

    News

    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  3. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  4. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  5. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series

    Ml

    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.