School may be out — but Pasco County Schools takes part in a program that provides free lunches to hungry children.
The program serves meals at various cafeterias, and at some pick-up locations, too.
Megan Sexton, the food program’s coordinator, said Pasco was one of the first counties in Florida to implement mobile feeding.
The idea was to provide youths with a well-rounded meal close to their homes, especially when food is lacking at home or parents are at work.
“Transportation is a huge issue, especially in Zephyrhills, Dade City and some of the rural areas,” Sexton explained. “With these mobile feeding buses, we’re able to go to these communities, stop, let the kids get on the bus and eat.”
The pick-up spots consist of libraries, churches, parks and outside residential communities.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds this program, which had already served 136,000 meals to kids throughout Pasco County as of the first week of July.
With the help of mobile food buses, this number is only expected to grow.
Six high-mileage school buses that were initially going to be retired, were retrofitted with tables so youths can eat in an air-conditioned space.
However, as the program began to expand in number, six vans were added to help distribute food throughout the county.
The vans don’t offer air-conditioned seating, but there are portable seats and tables, which are shaded by umbrellas.
That’s the setup at the New River Branch Library, in Wesley Chapel, where children recently were taking a lunch break.
It’s a convenient location for Patricia Buskey, and her son, Parker, who live behind the library.
“He loves school lunch, so he wanted to come out,” the mother said, with a chuckle. “He’s been coming almost every day.”
Like other kids, the 7-year-old from New River Elementary had fresh fruit, vegetables, chips and a sandwich.
Children can be selective with their items, placing foods they don’t want in the ‘share bin’ for other kids.
Patricia is glad Parker can get his favorite treats, but she also sees it as an opportunity for less-fortunate children.
“It’s so helpful,” she said. “There’s a lot of kids who need it. I know a lot of kids aren’t eating three meals a day at home.”
The county’s school system has made strides to improve the promotion of its program. This includes sending home flyers with students and advertising the program through social media like Facebook.
The school system also has partnered with the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger organization to distribute flyers to the public.
Sexton views the program as a way to help impoverished families, without singling them out.
She recalled an instance where a young girl with tears in her eyes hugged her after realizing she didn’t have to worry about how she was going to get lunch for the day.
“It really touches your heart when you realize this goes on right around us every day, and some of us are just oblivious to it,” Sexton noted.
Efforts to get the word out about the program are apparently paying off.
New River Library has benefited from these efforts. This year, it’s serving 60 to 70 kids a day, compared to an average of 20 a day last year, Sexton said.
Still, there are some who find out about the program, while they’re out and about.
That was the case with Patti Collard and daughter, Isabella.
“Actually we were just here at the library getting some books and just happened to walk past,” said Patti, a Wesley Chapel resident. “This is perfect timing.”
The mother noted she was glad there was a healthy selection, as she watched 4-year-old Isabella enjoy her watermelon, grapes and milk.
The lunch program is free for anyone age 18 and younger, and requires no registration. And, it’s open to all youths, whether they attend Pasco schools or not.
That was great news for Christopher Privett, 16, who is home-schooled and comes to the library with his family.
“We’ve been doing it almost every day that we can attend,” Privett said.
He added that he’s not picky, and he does enjoy a free lunch.
Sexton also attributes the program’s success to cafeteria staff who volunteer to work additional hours during the summer.
“Our staff is amazing,” she stated. “They do this all year-long. They have such a passion for these kids.”
The program runs through July 31.
For a list of cafeterias, pick-up sites or food items, call (813) 794-2480, text ‘FoodFL’ to 877-877, or visit SummerFoodPasco.net.
Summer food program
Where: To find a convenient cafeteria or pick-up spot, call (813) 794-2480, text ‘FoodFL’ to 877-877, or visit SummerFoodPasco.net.
When: Monday through Friday until July 31; Times vary by location.
Details: Youth 18 years old and under are offered free summer lunches.
Published July 17, 2019
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.