Hillsborough Co. feeding thousands of kids this summer

Program expanded to include nutrition education
Posted at 4:57 PM, May 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-30 17:55:57-04

Dozens of hungry kids gather around a picnic table at a Tampa park to get a free lunch, provided by Hillsborough County.

"During summer months, we can't take a break. Schools are closed but we still must fill the gap," said Mary Jo McKay with Hillsborough Co. Aging Services Nutrition and Wellness.

The need is huge.  60 percent of kids in the county are eligible for free and reduced school lunches.
This year, more than 5,000 are expected to get these summer meals from the county.

"Having a safe place for children, a place where parents can feel comfortable going to work and not leaving them at home, but here. And not just a safe place, but also a nutritious meal," said McKay.

The nutrition is becoming a bigger focus of the program.  On top of lunch, 6,000 kids will also go home with a healthy snack.  And the meals now include a lot more color with fresh veggies and fruits.

"I love the carrots!' a group of boys said.

"Peaches are my favorite!" said a little girl.

New this summer, the county's adding a little education during lunch.  Kids are learning about healthy habits through the "More than a Meal" program, which the county first started with senior citizens.

"Healthy aging starts at birth.  When we can get healthy eating habits started at an early age, then when they get to needing aging services, maybe they might not need as many services because we're doing healthy interventions now.

The effort complements what local schools are doing this summer.

"These children are a part of our family. They're part of our community. We want them to age well, to live well and feel well," McKay said.

The kids are grateful for the lessons and to leave with full bellies.

"Thank you for buying it for us!  Thank you!" a child said.

The county program is open to all kids 18 and younger weekdays through August 4.

You can find a full list of meal sites here.