HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Right now, Tampa Bay area school districts and groups like Feeding Tampa Bay are looking at their options so no student goes hungry this fall.
Schools are scheduled to reopen in August, and for many kids, they rely on meals they get inside school walls.
“In the spring when everyone was out, we had the opportunity to activate the summer feeding program, which enabled us to work alongside the school district,” said Feeding Tampa Bay Chief Programs Officer Matt Spence.
Some districts had grab-and-go programs when the pandemic moved schools online. Feeding Tampa Bay filled in the gap and got food to students and families in need, too.
Spence explains some requirements for the summer feeding program were waived, allowing for more flexibility, like giving multiple meals at once. But the fall brings new challenges as they’ll now be switching to an after-school meals program with requirements still in place.
“We don’t have the ability right now to do five meals at one time,” said Spence “We haven’t received a waiver so that children can consume the food off-site.”
Spence reminds that kids don’t have to be on campus to participate in an after-school program where they would get a meal. He says Feeding Tampa Bay is ready to find other solutions for family’s still uncomfortable with their children in public settings, like directing people to mobile distribution sites.
“Feeding Tampa Bay is going to work with our districts, we’re going to work with the partner agencies that we do year-round to make sure food is available to those who need it,” said Spence.
While on a panel with Feeding Tampa Bay Friday morning, Manatee County Schools Superintendent Cynthia Saunders explained for their district, families will be able to come to school feeding sites to pick up meals on a regular basis, as well as students being able to participate in any school activities or functions as if they were in brick and mortar learning.
Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart shared they’re still working through reopening details, but they’ll find a way like they did in the spring to get students meals.
“I don’t want people to think that free and reduced lunch would not be available,” said Stuart. “If you have a free and reduced lunch child and you get two meals a day from our regular system and you choose eLearning, we’re going to find a way to make sure that you still continue to get that food.”