SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. - As we first told a few weeks ago, a new study has found that tens of thousands of kids in Sarasota County are going without a huge necessity: food. Now local groups are teaming up with All Faiths Food Bank, hoping the community will step up to help this summer, when the need will be especially high.
21,000 students in Sarasota County are in the free or reduced lunch program. That number is concerning, but even more concerning is what happens when school gets out for the summer.
“That is half the kids in Sarasota County. They are on free and reduced lunch. It means they meet poverty level guidelines." Sandra Frank with All Faiths Food Bank says the clock is ticking. That's why they've already partnered up with local businesses, foundations, community groups, and hoping the rest of us to keep their shelves full this summer. "The school year stops and so does the meals. Where are they eating and what are they eating during the summer?"
The Gulf Coast Community Foundation recently conducted a local hunger study. It found only a fraction of the students in need are set to get it this summer, says Greg Luberecki. "Only about 4,000-5,000 of them were participating in school district feeding programs last year."
The study also found that many of the younger students in lower grades are already thinking about their lack of quality food. "Young children, third and fourth graders, are worried about food at home. That worry can cause a host of other problems," says Luberecki.
"It totally breaks your heart. Third and fourth graders should be focused on playing and learning and being a kid. Instead they are worried about when they will have another meal," says Frank.
The summer feeding initiative looks to ramp up summer feeding sites and mobile food pantries. That includes the backpack program, which throughout the school year provides more than 80,000 bags of food for students on the weekends. Jennifer Hayes heads the program. “I don't ever want to think about somebody else not having food. I think about my younger family members, and for them to be without food is very disheartening."
In 40 days of raising funds and food, they’re hoping to match the $500,000 they've already brought in. "We think they are going to respond to the need and respond to the challenge," says Frank.
If you want to donate money, all you have to do is contact the All Faiths Food Bank. If you want to donate food, all you have to do is drop it off at any area Goodwill store or fire department.
The Campaign Against Summer Hunger runs through May 10th. There will be a number of community events throughout the coming weeks. For more info you can visit skipalunch.org.