Four schools offer summer meals

This article was originally written as a Special to the Chronicle by: Sharon Anderson.

 

Between the efforts of Citrus County schools’ free meal service and Citrus County Harvest’s Blessings and Feed the Kids supplemental food programs, no child in Citrus County should go hungry this summer.

“Summer is a time that most students look forward to, however, for some, summer means limited food and hunger,” said Kelly Niblett, RDN, nutrition specialist and wellness committee chair for Citrus County Schools Food and Nutrition Services.

This year, four Citrus schools are providing free nutritionally balanced breakfasts and lunches to all children 18 and younger throughout June and July, Niblett said. No ID is required and children do not have to be enrolled in public schools to get a meal, she said.

“The Summer Feeding Program helps to bridge the gap during summer vacation when school breakfasts and lunches are not available,” states a flier announcing the program. “The programs are only approved for geographical areas of need where 50 percent or more of the children qualify for free and reduced-price meals during the school year. The goal is to make sure no child goes hungry,” it states.

Middle schools in Citrus Springs, Inverness and Crystal River are all serving breakfast from 8-8:45 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. until noon Monday-Friday through Aug. 1.

Forest Ridge Elementary School is serving breakfast from 8-8:45 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. until noon Monday through Thursday through July 26. The school will not serve meals on Fridays.

All four sites will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day. For more information on the Citrus Schools summer feeding program, call Lora Fredrikson at 726-1931, Ext. 2451.

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Because hunger doesn’t take the summer off, Citrus County Harvest (CCH) — a nonprofit organization that runs the Citrus County Blessings and the Feed the Kids programs — is filling in the gaps with its summer Feed the Kids supplemental take-home food program.

CCH began in 1999 by recovering food from local restaurants to be served at soup kitchens, said Grace Hengesbach, CCH executive director. In 2009, the organization expanded its operations to include the Citrus County Blessings program, which provides supplemental food for weekends during the school year to students in need, she said.

In June 2017, CCH again expanded its operations and began its summer farmer’s market-style Feed the Kids program and continued to provide food for children and their families who do not have regular access to adequate nutrition during the summer months, Hengesbach said.

“This program is offered to every child enrolled in the Blessings program during the school year,” Hengesbach said. “We send home enrollment forms with all 1,650 students and enroll every child who turns in the form.” Each Feed the Kids participant receives 12 pounds of nonperishable food, plus an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, per week throughout the summer, she said.

Last year the pilot program served 129 participants from 35 families at only one location, in Inverness, Hengesbach said. This year program volunteers are distributing food at six locations — in Floral City, Inverness, Homosassa, Beverly Hills, Crystal River and Citrus Springs. These locations were strategically selected to be within walking distance from where many of the children being served reside, she said.

“We are not publishing the exact locations to ensure safety and maintain the dignity of those participating,” Hengesbach said.

“We were expecting to enroll 600 participants from 150 families,” she said, noting actual participation is well above those numbers. “We currently have 758 participants from 188 families,” she said. And as anyone who visits the grocery store on a regular basis knows, feeding people is not cheap.

According to the CCH website, it costs roughly $35 to provide fresh produce for one Feed the Kids participant each week of the summer. Because CCH is a 501(c)(3) IRS registered charity, all monetary contributions are tax deductible.

“These programs do not receive any funding from the school district,” Hengesbach said. As a nonprofit, CCH is run by volunteers and completely funded through donations from individuals, civic groups, small businesses, churches, etc., grants and fundraisers, she said.

“Both programs, Blessings and Feed the Kids, were impacted financially by a grant the organization received which was ultimately unable to be paid in full,” said Hengesbach. “This resulted in the program needing to do additional fundraising to provide food to the 600 participants it had already enrolled. Through this fundraising, the program was able to remove all children from the waiting list,” she said.

“Due to an unexpected shortage of funding and logistics, we cannot enroll any more families this summer,” said Hengesbach. “While we wish we could feed everyone in need, enrollment is no longer open for this summer,” she said.

“This program relies heavily on volunteers and requires the use of personal vehicles in addition to a commitment of several hours each week,” Hengesbach said. “Logistics became an issue when we discovered the amount of trucks needed to move the food was nearly double what we expected.”

The summer Feed the Kids program wouldn’t be possible without the following community partners, Hengesbach said:

· United Way of Citrus County, which partially funded the program.

· The Community Food Bank, which acquired 15,000 free FEMA meal boxes and is procuring and delivering the produce each week.

· Citrus County, which allows the food to be distributed on its properties.

· The Chamber of Commerce, which houses the food each week and allows volunteers to prepare bags on site for distribution.

· The Kiwanis and the Dream Foundation have also been instrumental in making the program successful.

· Sixty-two volunteers who operate and maintain the sites for 10 weeks during the summer.

Anyone who would like to volunteer or donate food to the program can call the CCH office at 352-341-7707 or inquire online at http://citruscountyblessings.org/

Each Feed the Kids participant receives 12 pounds of nonperishable food, plus an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, per week throughout the summer