Schools host annual summer food services program

By Faith Buckley fbuckley@ufl.edu
Posted 6/15/22

CLAY COUNTY – Pizza, popcorn chicken and chicken sandwiches are on the lunch menu this summer for children around Clay County.

Clay County kindergarten-through-12 public schools began their free …

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Schools host annual summer food services program

Posted

CLAY COUNTY – Pizza, popcorn chicken and chicken sandwiches are on the lunch menu this summer for children around Clay County.

Clay County kindergarten-through-12 public schools began their free food program on June 6 to families with students up to 18.

Meals also will be served from noon to 1 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Middleburg-Clay Hill Library and on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Orange Park Library.

“To be able to continue to service children and provide a hot meal is very important to us,” said Susan Glover, director of food and nutrition services for Clay County public schools.

Breakfasts will be served from 8-9 a.m., while lunches will be offered from noon to 1 p.m.

Glover has held her position for 11 years and has worked for the department for 22 years. She said the program is a great opportunity to serve those in need as grocery prices increase.

“It’s certainly beneficial. I think it’s a positive thing anytime that you can provide meals to students,” Glover said.

About 50-200 students at each location participating in the food program for lunch every day, Glover said.

In 2021, the school district served 50,406 meals across the sites, and in 2020 served 39,522 meals.

“We really look at the map of Clay County and try to look at having schools that are spread out so we’re able to service as many people as we can,” Glover said. “Hunger doesn’t stop just because the school year does.”

Food truck filling stations are available at Middleburg Elementary on Mondays and Wednesdays for lunch and are at Orange Park Elementary on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The filling stations are associated with the Clay County Library and bring a change of pace to the students.

This will be the first summer since 2019 that the program will be off of COVID-19 waivers. Parents would grab-and-go meals twice a day for their families amid the pandemic.

“We want to make sure that we are providing a hot breakfast and a hot lunch for the students of Clay County,” Glover said.

Elementary schools offering the program are concentrated in low-income areas. The selection is based on the percent of students in a school who receive free or reduced lunch — upward of 50%, Glover said.

“To be able to continue to provide that service to our students is certainly beneficial and something we’re really proud to be a part of,” she said.

Glover has seen an increase in the food program’s quality. The menu has evolved to incorporate a well-balanced diet: vegetables, fruit and protein. She said the county has not run into any problems with the program and is going strong.

Carolyn Hayward, the principal of Wilkinson Elementary, said she notices the program’s participants are recurrent families who otherwise have a hard time feeding their kids.

“Well, it has a very positive effect: it helps struggling families to meet basic needs for children,” Hayward said. “I love the fact that we offer free meals to our community for those who need it.”

Hayward has been the principal of Wilkinson for two years and served as assistant principal for three years prior.

“It’s a blessing to be able to serve at a school and within a district, that has such a knee, has such a heart for service and reaching out and wanting to meet those needs of our families,” she said.

Michelle Andrade is an intensive reading teacher at Middleburg High and worked at Bright Minds Youth Development, a summer camp in Orange Park, for five years.

She said students enrolled in the camp were of low income and partook in the food program.

“It’s one less meal that they (families) would have to provide,” Andrade said. “It actually could be kind of a fun thing, too. They(kids) can go and eat lunch and then maybe do a little bit of family time.”

She said it’s a vital lifeline tool.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services works with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northeast Florida to fund the program. The county submits a reimbursement form to the federal government monthly to receive funding for the programs.

“If they would have had something like that when I was growing up, I definitely would have been something that we benefited from,” Andrade said.

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