Food bank expanding summer meal program

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SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. -- As we head into the summer months, food is a major concern for many Suncoast students and their families. Nearly 50% of students in Sarasota County are on free or reduced lunch, with many only eating at school.

Now multiple organizations have come together to bring awareness to the realities of child hunger in our community. Wednesday they announced their biggest effort yet to provide food for families this summer.

"Over 50% of our students are eligible for free or reduced meals during the school year," says Beverly Girard of Sarasota County Schools.

All Faiths Food Bank has partnered with the school system following the success of their Campaign Against Summer Hunger. “This was the first campaign we had ever done. We've always had the cycles where our cupboards are bare in the summer," says CEO Sandra Frank.

With the help of Gulf Coast Community Foundation, in less than 5 months of fundraising, they are fully equipped to meet the need. "We had hoped to raise $1 million; we raised almost $1.2 million. We had hoped to raise 600,000 pounds of food; we're pushing 800,000 pounds of food."

Throughout the summer, that food will be distributed through nearly 195 agencies in Sarasota County, by expanding their mobile pantry destinations, starting a backpack program, and developing the Sprout Mobile Farm market and Hot Meal program. "We have increased the number of Hot Meal sites from 30 to almost 50, which is really just an amazing accomplishment."

Even Suncoast movie star Handsome the Lion is getting involved in the Campaign Against Summer Hunger. Big Cat Habitat filmed a public service announcement for Jam Out Hunger as part of their fundraiser for All Faith's campaign.

To take it a step further, Big Cat Habitat is opening their facility to the public free of admission June 21st, asking visitors to bring a bag full of non-perishable groceries to contribute to the effort.

Summer food distribution and Hot Meals will begin June 9th, and are free to students and families. All Faiths Food Bank has a website showing all the locations and times that food will be distributed, even providing maps showing the closest mobile pantry to your home.

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