Study reveals widespread food insecurity among Sarasota students

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- One might assume students would be anxious about getting a good grade on a test or fitting in with their peers, but in Sarasota and Desoto counties many children worry where they will get their next meal.

A comprehensive study commissioned by Sarasota's own All Faiths Food Bank was released today detailing child hunger in Sarasota and Desoto counties. The food bank says it's the most comprehensive child hunger study ever conducted, and that it's unique, in that they obtained most of their information by going directly to the source -- the children.

The results are alarming.

"They'll just tell me, 'Miss Bailey, we don't have any food in our house, we don't have anything to eat.' or 'I'm hungry, I didn't get dinner last night; we didn't have any food," says Tracey Bailey, school counselor at Gocio Elementary.

More than 21,000 elementary to high school students in Sarasota County receive free or reduced lunch. That works out to 50 percent of the elementary to high school students in Sarasota, and a whopping 80 percent in Desoto.

"We provide breakfast, lunch, and out after school kids get dinner here as well," says Bailey.

Sixteen Title 1 schools and over 3600 students from elementary to high school age were surveyed in order to give the children a voice. According to All Faiths CEO Sandra Frank, the results revealed that most children said they feared three things.

"Are you worried that there won't be enough money for food at home? Are you worried about the kind of food that you're eating? Have you ever not been able to eat because there wasn't enough food for you?"

All Faiths says it's not just families below the poverty line facing food insecurity, and that the economy is playing a part.

"We used to think it was just poverty," says Frank. "The biggest indicator now is unemployment."

The study was done to raise awareness and urge the community to get involved.

"Empty your pantries, empty your shelves," says Frank. "Donate food to the food bank before you go North."