The program provides meals for local children | News | Daily Sun Villages

It’s only 9 a.m., but Savannah Hodges is already thinking about lunch. The front desk administrator at the Sumter Youth Center in Bushnell is responsible each morning for counting the number of children attending the center’s summer youth program who will receive a free lunch. Once she gets a final number, she goes to Bushnell Elementary School to collect the lunches the staff have prepared for local children, then returns to the youth center to distribute them.

The Bushnell location of the Sumter Youth Center alone offers an average of between 50 and 65 free meals per day.

“Parents don’t have to worry about lunches,” Hodges said. “It gives (the kids) the same meal they would have at school.”

About 100 sites in the tri-county area are feeding children for free this summer through the Summer Food Service Program. The federally funded program, which is administered by the states, was created to ensure that children 18 and under receive healthy meals during the summer. Although most of these sites are in schools, many community partners, such as the Sumter Youth Center, also distribute meals as part of the program.

Linda Milliken, food service supervisor for Lake County Schools, expects the county to produce 47,000 breakfasts and 93,000 lunches for a total of 140,000 meals during the school closure.

“Last year we served 56,885 breakfasts and 60,602 lunches for a total of 117,487 meals,” Milliken said. “This year is higher than previous years as more sites are open and more summer programs are offered by the district.”

In 2021, Lake County provided meals at 21 schools and three community sites, but this year Lake is serving meals at 30 campuses and one community site.

According to a Marion County Public Schools press release, the county plans to serve 200,000 meals at 33 sites.

“That’s the expected number of meals, including walk-ins and summer school students,” said Kevin Christian, director of public relations for Marion County Public Schools. “That was our goal last year as well. For comparison, in 2019 we served around 128,000 meals.

Last year in Sumter County, between 40,000 and 50,000 total meals were distributed to local children. They expect to give more this year.

Eric Suber, director of school support services for the Sumter County School District, said the county is doing things a little differently than it was a year ago.

“We’re not going to do remote sites this year like we did during the pandemic because last summer we had very few attendees,” he said. “It was very different when the pandemic first hit.”

Lake and Marion counties operate the same way.

“We have offered a take-out service for the past two years due to the pandemic,” Christian said. “It allowed families to take meals in bulk.”

But these pickup sites are no longer available.

“This year, all meals are eaten on site,” Milliken said.

In the summer of 2019, more than 141 million meals and snacks were donated to children nationwide through the Summer Food Service Program, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Average calories for meals distributed through the programs range from 350 to 600 calories for breakfast and 550 to 850 calories for lunch. Calories vary by grade level.

“For many students, these are the healthiest meals of the day,” Christian said. “For the other students, these are the only meals of the day. We don’t want any child to go hungry, and we invite all children to stop by the participating school or nearest satellite locations…this summer for free meals.

Summer BreakSpot is the Florida agency that runs the Summer Food Service program. To find a nearby food distribution site, visit summerbreakspot.org.

Writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or [email protected]

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