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Summer Hunger on the Suncoast: What Happens After the Bell Rings?

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SARASOTA, FL. (WWSB) - Free and reduced lunch programs serve tens of thousands of children in our area during the school year. It makes you wonder where these children get a good meal when school is out for the summer.

All Faiths Food Bank and the Food Bank of Manatee County have a solution.

"I've had the kids come to me, about three weeks ago, saying Jo, I want something for my belly," said Josephine Lanier, who plans to bring the five kids she nanny's for to the Glasser Schoenbaum Center every other Friday of the month.

Here, she can get the food she needs to make their next meal. Luca, the youngest one, will eat just about anything. 

"I try to make like goulash, that's simple. Or macaroni and cheese and hot dogs," said Lanier. "Slam it together. It puts something in their stomachs."

"If they don't like it they'll let me know, they're usually pretty good about eating what I give them."

During the summer, meals can be a challenge for Luca and his family and the more than 21 thousand students and their younger siblings on the Suncoast depending on the free meals at school.

So what happens after the bell rings? 

"When school ends, hunger does begin for those children," said Sandra Frank, the CEO of All Faiths Food Bank in Sarasota County. 

For the fifth year in a row the organization is kicking off its summer food program, through their Campaign against Summer Hunger, All Faiths is hoping to provide more than two million meals to children and families.

"It is truly heartbreaking, children have to eat," said Frank. "They have to eat and the decisions and choices these families are making is just heart wrenching."

A heart wrenching realization Frank says she's seen firsthand.

"The choices and the kind of food families are finding in order to make sure that tummies are full, I'm talking about cornflakes and water for dinner, that kind of thing," Frank continued to say.

"Those are the kinds of decisions and kinds of food that families are having to eat when they just don't have enough." 

All Faiths is partnering with more than a hundred organizations on the Suncoast to distribute food and fresh produce right to the hands of these students and their families.

And this year they're also trying something new by using three outreach workers to find those kids that may fall through the cracks during the summer months.

"The schools make it easy during the school year but during the summer months as we know as parents, kids are scattered all over the place so we just began working with the community and became very innovative and used different types of strategies to find children and we have about 155 different partners, different places where kids are during the summer months," said Frank. 

Those community partners and outreach workers will make it possible to reach nearly 35 thousand people in Sarasota County struggling to put food on the table. 

"That statement that it takes a village, this proves it really does take a village to feed children during the summer," she continued to say. 

For the nearly 34 thousand students in Manatee County living with similar struggles this summer,the Food Bank of Manatee County is there to help.

This year their campaign is to extend beyond what they’ve done in the past,which is to follow the summer break spot, the school bus in manatee county that provides a hot lunch.

 “We follow that bus on Friday and we hand out weekend meals," said Mary Beth Phillips, CEO of The Food Bank of Manatee County. 

"Our goal this year is ten thousand bags,or 60 thousand meals to children in Manatee County.” 

 With nearly 70 percent of students in Manatee County on the free or reduced lunch meal program,Phillips says there has been a significant increase in amount of food needed in the past ten years, especially on the weekends.

 “Part of that is because of the recession and because again of people who are back to work,but they are one incident away from complete catastrophe," said Phillips. 

“Our goal is to make sure the shelves here at the food bank are filled so we can get food out to the community during the summer."

All of this so kids like luca don’t go hungry.

 "It would be very difficult because they struggle. They struggle every day," said Lanier. 

"Hopefully by this food bank and the other food banks, it's gonna help us because I don't want to see no child starve."

Both organizations will use the money raised from their summer hunger campaigns to go directly toward providing food for students in the next few months.

If you're interested in joining ABC7 in the fight to end summer hunger, you can visit here for more information.