New Law Requires Counties to Enact Summer Food Program for Needy Kids

Hundreds of thousands of Florida’s children go hungry in the summer because they’re not able to take advantage of the free or reduced lunches offered at school during the school year.

A new Florida law aims to make sure those youngsters get at least one nutritious meal a day.

One of the Tallahassee area Boys and Girls Clubs feeds breakfast and lunch to 165 children a day.

Director Zandra Gilley says all of the children are on free or reduced lunches during the school year, but she says many of them might not get a good meal during the summer months if it weren’t for this program.

“Exactly, and this gives them an opportunity to at least receive one or two meals per day that’s nutritious and will provide them the stimulation they need for a healthy lifestyle.”

Now thousands of additional children will have access to free summer meals like a boxed lunch of sandwich, juice, milk and fruit. Legislation recently signed into law requires every school district to enact a summer nutrition program by 2006.

Most of Florida’s counties have some kind of summer meal program, but more than 800,000 kids don’t have access to summer meals. The new law changes that.

The law requires meal sites within at least 10 miles of every elementary school where half the children are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Rep. Ron Greenstein sponsored the bill.

“People who live in affluent areas don’t realize these are the kids who are going to be our future and if we feed them during the summer, there’s a better chance they’ll be ready for school when the fall starts.”

There’s a financial incentive, too. Florida will now be eligible for more than $100 million in federal funds to make sure kids have at least one good meal a day next summer.

Parents looking to find an existing summer meal program for their child this year can call the State Department of Education toll free at 1-800-622-5985, extension 3. School districts will be able to apply for an exemption to get out of providing a summer nutrition program, but exemptions would have to be justified in a public meeting and citizens will be able to vote on the exemption.

Non-profit organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs will be eligible to serve as meal sites.