All Faiths Food Bank put on the Campaign Against Summer Hunger for the sixth consecutive year to provide kids who rely on free and reduced lunches free food over the summer months.
When summer arrives, that means no school and more time to play. For some kids, it also means the end of regular free meals provided at school.
In Sarasota County, 50% of school children rely on free and reduced-price lunches during the school year; in DeSoto County, that number rises to 98%.
“When school ends, that’s when hunger begins for so many, many children in our community,” said Sandra Frank, CEO of All Faiths Food Bank.
During its sixth annual Campaign Against Summer Hunger earlier this year, All Faiths Food Bank raised $1.4 million to help provide hot meals for children over the summer months.
Last year the campaign, along with more than 200 partners, provided 35,947 children with almost 2.7 million meals. They plan to reach more this year.
“It actually doesn’t seem feasible that we have children who could be hungry in our community — when you look around us where we live, the beauty that surrounds us, and the affluence that surrounds us, but it’s real,” Frank said. “So we are making it, I would say, just excessively available to children and their families to find food over the summer months.”
Partnerships with the Sarasota and DeSoto County School Districts help enhance the meal services at summer programs, like Sarasota County’s summer learning academies, along with 54 other community sites where kids congregate.
One of those sites is the Salvation Army summer camp in Sarasota, where about 96% of the 50 kids are on a scholarship, according to Quincy Landreth, Salvation Army’s community center director.
“It’s nice to know these guys are getting a nutritious meal in the summer months, when they may not have that chance at home,” Landreth said.
In addition to the free, hot meals, All Faiths Food Bank has 118 backpack sites across the community, which provide kids with a bag of food to take home with them.
“It’s kid-friendly, healthy, nutritious food. We put it now in a plastic bag, like any other plastic bag, so there’s no stigma,” Frank said. “We don’t want any indicator that this is charitable food in any way. They put it in their very own little backpack; they look like every other child.”
The backpack sites are at local libraries and community centers that children frequent.
“My favorite food from my backpack is the cheese stick. My brother looks forward to the food I share with him; he’s three years old,” said one third-grader who participates in the program.
The lead sponsors of the campaign are the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, and The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, which have funded the campaign for all six years.
“As a mother myself of children in school and having spent time in many of Sarasota’s Title I schools, I have witnessed how critical nourishing our community’s most vulnerable children is to their well-being and ability to succeed in the classroom,” said Terri Vitale, All Faiths Food Bank board member. “Every child deserves the chance to wake up and take on the day with proper nourishment so they can do what every child should be doing — exploring, learning, and playing in the summer — not worrying about when they will have their next meal.”
For volunteer opportunities or to find where to get food, visit allfaithsfoodbank.org/campaignagainstsummerhunger.