Bradenton, Fla. -- It could be the most important program happening in Manatee County all summer long---for kids under 18.
Manatee School's Director of Food and Nutrition services Regina Thoma says,
"about 60-percent of our students receive free or reduced meals throughout the school year...you could apply that to summer to see how many students need meals."
So the Manatee District deploys a mobile feeding unit where kids eat free--feeding many children in the county experiencing under-nutrition.
"we have two mobile feeding buses that each make three stops in the community bringing meals to the kids, so that's how we cover the county."
The district will feed children at 15 county school sites that are open for summer programs as well as other key locations. Thoma says,
"we have about 40 to 50 community sites that we serve every year which would be daycares and community centers and other types of places kids go in the summer."
According to United Way's ALICE report, of more than 134-thousand manatee county households, 12-percent were below the poverty level. Stephanie Grepling of Meals on Wheels plus in Manatee County says with these numbers, summer is a critical time to help feed the community.
"we're a seasonal location so it's not the holidays where everyone is in the spirit of giving and the children are the one's who need the food the most."
And they do this by way of their sack summer hunger program. Meals on Wheels and the school district coordinate the same meal locations throughout the summer
"we also follow the kids eat free bus on Fridays running from June 9th through August 4th.
Programs that are critical in Manatee County according to Grepling.
"development in these early years for children is so important...so nutrition and development is critical."