PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — School districts on both sides of the bay are helping to feed students while schools remain closed, but at least three districts are preparing to limit the number of days families can pick up free meals.
Starting the week of April 15, parents in Hillsborough County will only be able to pick up food from schools one day a week: Wednesday.
Pinellas County will have school meal sites open Monday, April 20, but starting April 22, meal pick up sites will only be open on Wednesdays.
In Pasco County, parents can only pick up food on Tuesdays. Those sites opened on April 7.
The change is aimed at limiting the number of interactions between parents and students with school staff, as part of the CDC’s social distancing guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Yet, students won’t go hungry. In Hillsborough County, students will be able to get 12 pounds of food per student per week. In Pinellas County, students will get six days worth of meals at a time, including hot and cold options.
Pinellas County parent Caitlin Testa considers the meals a blessing. She works as a hairstylist and is not working because of the coronavirus.
“I think it’s so great. We’re so appreciative of these meals. I’m not getting a paycheck right now, and the nature of my job limits me from working at home, so it really hits home for the schools to do this for us,” she said, fighting back the tears.
School districts on both sides of the bay tell ABC Action News the drive-up food distribution sites are popular options for parents trying to feed their kids healthy meals at a time when schools are closed.
“We were waiting for an hour to get into a store the other day, and then I had to go into work. So our supplies in our house are limited,” Leah Shackton said while picking up a bag of food Monday.
Lynn Geist, the Pinellas County Schools Director of Food and Nutrition, says if parents are unable to make it to the one day a week pickup, they can check out other food distribution sites run by the YMCA or Feeding Tampa Bay. “It is very important that we keep everyone safe, and we all do our part while still helping our communities with healthy meals. That’s why we have decided to go to a one day per week distribution,” she explained.
The process of picking up meals takes less than 2 minutes. Hillsborough County now has 147 pick up sites open, Pinellas County has 22.
Some districts like Manatee and Polk will continue to operate school meal sites several days per week.