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Free lunch program is again in the bag

For Pinellas County children this summer, there is such a thing as a free lunch. The Summer Food Service Program for Children provides a free bag lunch weekdays to any child in Pinellas County, regardless of financial need. The program receives funding from the federal government and is supervised by the Pinellas County Commission's Department of Social Services.

The government provides lunches each day at recreational sites, playgrounds and day camps beginning June 10. Program directors would like children to be registered by Tuesday.

"Any kids who come off the street who are not registered, we'll still feed them," said Margaret Caravakis, an accounting clerk with the Department of Social Services and head of this summer's program.

More than 2,000 children ate free lunches last summer at 34 sites around the county, Caravakis said. The program was so popular that officials are expanding the service to 49 sites this summer.

Administrators picked the sites based on areas where at least half the children qualify for free or reduced-price meals during the school year. The sites are in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Seminole, Gulfport, Pinellas Park, Largo and Tarpon Springs. Children enjoy the meals, organizers say, because the sack lunches are tastier than typical school cafeteria chow.

"Most of the kids do eat most of the lunch," said Janice Vance, who oversees the program at the Gulfport Community Center, 5730 Shore Blvd. S.

"We've been real pleased to have it. For the ones that really would not be getting that good of a lunch consistently, this is a great program."

Vance said the lunch contains a meat sandwich, such as turkey or bologna, fruit or fruit juice and milk. Kids also get a snack in the afternoon.

Margaret Szemesi's son and daughter have been eating lunches at the Gulfport summer recreation program for the past two years. They like the food, she said.

"They haven't complained," Ms. Szemesi said. "It's nice to have the lunch there."

- For more information on registering children for the summer free lunch program, call Margaret Caravakis at 462-4072.