Walton County School District helps students with food insecurity

More than half of students in Walton County receive free or reduced cost lunches, according to the school district. (WJHG/WECP)

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Imagine trying to learn while you're hungry. It's a reality for hundreds of children in Walton County.

More than half, 56 percent, receive free or reduced-cost lunches, according to the Walton County School Board. Most live in the northern part of the county.

But the district is taking action to help children who have, what they call, food insecurity.

"It is vitally important. We know that students come to school to learn, but they can't learn when they are having their basic necessities of hunger permeating their minds when we're trying to teach them the quote unquote ABCs and 123s," said A. Russell Hughes, superintendent of Walton County Schools.

Making matters worse, data from a recent Department of Health survey shows people living in Paxton, Mossy Head, New Harmony, Ponce de Leon, Red Bay, Argyle, Eucheeanna, and parts of DeFuniak Springs are more likely to live in a "food desert," meaning their access to healthy food is limited.

Walton County students are getting healthy lunches in their cafeterias, which the superintendent says is also helping those students who need extra help getting food on the table at home.

One way they're helping is through the Food for Thought program - Students are sent home with backpacks filled with food on the weekends.

"This benefits students of high economic need, they are sent home on weekends with a variety of fresh produce items that the parents can cook during the weekend and just provides meal options, because it's a long time from Friday to Monday," said Robert Martin, director of food services.

Students can also get free lunch at their school over the summer.

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