TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay area school districts are preparing to feed students through most of the summer months to continue ensuring students are fed through the COVID-19 crisis.
The school year's emergency meal distribution is coming to a close for many districts across the state.
Hillsborough school district leaders said they saw numbers for emergency meal distribution continue to jump for weeks, until the beginning of May when they finally started to level off.
School leaders said they initially didn't anticipate such a high need, but are glad they were prepared to distribute the meals families needed to get through these difficult times.
"I think people really didn't know what was coming, and they just felt really insecure about where they were going to get food," said Shani Hall, the general manager for student nutrition for Hillsborough County Schools. "Maybe that explained why every single day and every week we were, we just kept increasing in the numbers."
The number of students picking up has started to decline as Florida began the reopening process.
In the meantime, Hall is now encouraging families to apply for state food assistance for the next school year if they've had a change in their financial situation and may need help.
"I think that just given the economic position that this has placed so many families in this area, that there are probably resources out there that they may not know about," Hall said.
Your child automatically qualifies for free school meals if you are receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Click here to apply.
"Families, maybe they weren't qualified for free lunch, but they should definitely go ahead and apply," Hall said. "If they get approved this school year, they automatically get a grace period at the beginning of next school year before they have to apply again if they haven't applied for SNAP."
SUMMER FEEDING PROGRAMS STARTING
Hillsborough County Schools will finish its last weekly emergency food distribution on Wednesday, May 27. The district then will switch to a new summer feeding schedule starting June 8 and ends on July 30.
Summer meal distribution for Hillsborough Schools will be Monday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The school district is still working to confirm the list of sites where parents and kids can pick up meals.
Instead of a week's worth of food, expect a daily breakfast and a more typical school hot lunch, such sandwich or cheeseburger.
However, some expect some of the meal pick-up procedures to stay in place.
"Each day, we will still do the grab-and-go drive-through method," said Shani Hall, the general manager for student nutrition for Hillsborough County schools.
Pasco County Schools will transition to the summer feeding schedule beginning on Tuesday, June 2. The school district will have 25 drive-through feeding sites and 10 school bus stop sites.
The drive-through sites and the bus deliveries will take place on Tuesday only. However, according to the district, the food provided will include lunch and breakfast for each student for five days.
Pinellas County Schools will provide free meals to children all summer long as well. Their weekly summer feeding program begins Wednesday, June 3.
There will be 22 school locations, and various community sites throughout Pinellas County participate in the summer feeding program. Many sites are open through Wednesday, August 5.
Children 18 and younger may receive free meals through the program. You can find a Pinellas Summer BreakSpot online.
Free meals will be available to any child or teen, 18 or younger, at any of the meal sites in Manatee County Schools as well starting Monday, June 1.
All 23 of the district's drive-thru school sites will remain the same (serving 11 a.m. - 1 p.m., Mon-Fri), and district officials said they are adjusting their mobile feeding sites to 14 total.
Kids can pick up lunch for the day and breakfast for the next day. On Fridays, the district will also be handing out meals for the weekend.
ABC Action News is still working to find updated summer feeding plans for Sarasota and Hernando County School Districts.