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  1. Opinion

Henderson: There are good people in our town — a lot of them lawyers

Hunger never takes a day off. It doesn't go on break or vacation, and it often strikes those least prepared to fight back.

There are great programs in Hillsborough public schools to provide free or low-cost breakfast and lunch for students, and more than half the nearly 207,000 students qualify.

But the question that nagged Tampa attorney Carol Jean LoCicero was how those same kids and their families would be fed on weekends or on school breaks when there was no food.

That led her to join with other attorneys, volunteers and sponsors in 2015 to form the Tampa chapter of a private program called End 68 Hours of Hunger — 68 hours being the approximate time from the close of school on Friday until it reopens on Monday.

How does it work?

"You keep asking," she said.

She means asking for donations, sponsors and volunteers to provide enough food to meet the growing demands on her program. But it also means she keeps asking the schools how she and her team can help fill the gap. She has a working relationship with nine schools in south Tampa and there probably will be more.

That also means asking for help through social media, including the Facebook page "End 68 Hours of Hunger Tampa." That's where I noticed a post where she pleaded for volunteers to help replenish the program's pantry with such items as peanut butter, canned soups and meats, pasta, macaroni, fruit cups and cereal.

"We can do a lot with a little bit," she said.

Here's how it works.

Children in need are identified through teachers and guidance counselors. Volunteers fill boxes with enough staples to ensure the child and family enough food for the weekend. If there is a holiday, as there was last week for Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, they'll pack some extra supplies.

Kids are called to the school office near the end of the school day on Friday and allowed to leave early. That's so classmates won't see them carrying a food box out of the school.

They need to be sensitive and aware in other ways, too.

"We have one child living out of a car with his mom," LoCicero said. "We have other homeless families. We can't give them anything that needs to be cooked because they don't have any way to prepare it.

"Occasionally, a teacher will tell us that a student who might have trouble remembering his or her homework assignments will never forget about Friday. They'll talk about what this box of food means to their brothers and sisters."

I asked how she kept a dry eye after stories like that.

"I generally don't," she said.

I should disclose that LoCicero is a partner in the law firm that used to do legal work for The Tampa Tribune when I worked there. If there is a better example of a kind and caring human being, I have yet to meet that person.

She will be the first to tell you, though, that there are a lot of good people in our town — and a lot of them are lawyers. Five local firms took part in a challenge to raise the most food and money to sustain this program.

She got the idea to start this after watching a segment on 60 Minutes about families from Kissimmee who were evicted from their homes and were struggling to get the basics of food and shelter. That led her to contact Clair Bloom of New Hampshire, who came up with the 68 Hours program.

When Carol Jean LoCicero gets inspired, things happen.

Kids get fed. Hunger loses a round.

And just maybe, a few eyes get moist. It's good to help.

Contact Joe Henderson at joehtampa@gmail.com

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