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School food is for the kids, Hillsborough superintendent says

The district is trying to be lenient with food distribution in a stressful time. Some are taking advantage.
Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis said some people were visiting food distribution sites and taking food meant for children.
Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis said some people were visiting food distribution sites and taking food meant for children. [ Hillsborough County School District ]
Published Apr. 15, 2020|Updated Apr. 16, 2020

TAMPA — In what could be seen as a sign of desperation, people in Hillsborough County took so much food Wednesday from their neighborhood schools that some ran out before all the children could get their meals.

Some recipients appear to be trying selling the food over social media, officials said.

“It’s a shame that we found out that some of our constituents were coming through the lines, visiting multiple schools and taking away food for children in need," school superintendent Addison Davis said. “That just can’t happen. When we talk about being able to serve every one of the students within our organization, we’re here to stand with them."

Hillsborough, like other districts around the nation, has made packaged food available during the COVID-19 crisis to families who are struggling through unemployment or anyone who wants a school meal.

When schools remained closed after spring break ended in March, select campuses became feeding centers. The program expanded later to 147 locations. In addition, 150 buses began carrying food into neighborhoods for families who lack transportation. Last Thursday, the district reported it had handed out more than 1 million meals.

From the start, the food was made available to all children, whether they signed up for free lunch at school or not. With federal approval, the district dropped an earlier requirement for children to accompany their parents. While there is some documentation taken at the schools, that is not always possible because some of the children are enrolled in private schools, homeschooled, or are not yet old enough to attend school.

This week, to cut down on person-to-person contact that could spread the deadly coronavirus, the district switched from daily distribution of packaged breakfast and lunch to weekly bundles of bread, lunch meat, milk and assorted snacks.

Officials anticipated an increased demand for the larger bundles. To prepare, they averaged the demand for the last two weeks and then added more food.

The report, at day’s end: Seven percent ran out before the service ended at 1 p.m. They had handled out 184,000 bundles, about a 33 percent from previous levels.

“As an organization, we stand prepared to continue to lead all efforts to ensure that all students have the essentials during these unprecedented times,” the district said in a news release.

How will they do that?

Spokeswoman Tanya Arja said they will order more food. And measures, which she could not specify, will be taken at the schools to tighten accountability.