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Pinellas schools to provide free meals starting March 23

The Hillsborough and Pasco school districts make similar announcements.

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Aiming to prevent children from going hungry while classes are canceled, the Pinellas County School District has established stations for distributing free meals to the community beginning March 23.

The district will have bagged breakfasts and lunches available at eight sites throughout the county, for anyone age 18 and under, from March 23-27. The only caveat is that the children must be present to pick up the food.

RELATED: Hillsborough schools will provide free meals at 21 sites

RELATED: Pasco schools offer seven sites for free meals

The breakfast will include cereal or a breakfast bar, juice and milk. The lunch will provide a sandwich, fruit cup, juice and milk. Both will meet U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional standards, district officials said.

As soon as the idea began to surface that the coronavirus might shutter schools, anti-poverty advocates began asking how children’s basic needs such as food would be met. More than half of the students attending public schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties qualify for free and reduced-price meals.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees the state’s school lunch program, turned to the federal government to request a waiver so that schools, child care centers and other organizations that regularly provide the subsidized meals even when students are not attending. The model is similar to what the districts do during the summer months.

The federal Department of Agriculture granted permission on Friday.

“We thank the USDA for helping us provide schools with flexible options to make school meals available. We will leverage innovative solutions, relationships, and the dedication of Florida’s schools and non-profits to ensure no child goes hungry during this pandemic,” state agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried said in a statement announcing the decision.

The Hillsborough and Pasco school districts have stated they will follow suit, but they have not yet released their specific plans.

In Pinellas, families will be able to drive through the car or bus circle at eight locations to pick up the meals, from March 23-27. No decisions have been provided about future dates.

The district also said it is working with the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger to help reach more students and families needing assistance.

Pinellas free meal stations for kids:

Dunedin Elementary School: 900 Union St., Dunedin. [MAP]

Time: 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

Eisenhower Elementary School: 2800 Drew St., Clearwater. [MAP]

Time: 11 a.m. to Noon

Marjorie K. Rawlings Elementary School, 6505 68th St. N, Pinellas Park. [MAP]

Time: 11 a.m. to Noon

John Hopkins Middle School : 701 16th St. S, St. Petersburg. [MAP]

Time: 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

New Heights Elementary School: 3901 37th St. N, St. Petersburg. [MAP]

Time: 10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

Ponce De Leon Elementary School: 1301 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Clearwater. [MAP]

Time: 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Southern Oak Elementary School: 9101 Walsingham Road, Largo. [MAP]

Time: 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Tarpon Springs Elementary School: 555 Pine St., Tarpon Springs. [MAP]

Time: 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

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