With the holidays rapidly approaching, most of us are preparing for a time of celebration and gift-giving. Yet for many children attending Central Florida Public Schools, this season will prove to be a particularly difficult one.
As many as 222,000* Central Florida students are receiving free or reduced cost lunches through the federally subsidized School Lunch Program because their families are struggling.
As a way of addressing this need Second Harvest is providing 18 Orange County elementary schools with Hi-Five Kids Packs – Kid friendly, shelf-stable packets of food product meant for weekend consumption. Each pack provides enough caloric content for a day to youngsters 6 to 8 years old.
In Orange County, which has 125 elementary schools, almost one fourth have free-lunch eligibility rates exceeding 95%. Osceola County reports a disturbing figure indicating that 70% of their students are now on the eligible list for free lunch, up from 63% four years ago. *
Childhood Hunger and food insecurity are on the rise, not just locally but nationwide. Participation in the program has increased dramatically as we weather the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Free school lunches do not address what occurs when children lack access to school cafeterias over the weekend. The Hi-Five program helps narrow that nutritional gap. Additionally, studies clearly show a correlation between proper nutrition and academic performance.
Our Hi-Five program has grown from 5 schools in 2006 to a projected 20 schools this year. To-date, Second Harvest has gotten more than 134,000 packs into the hands and tummies of needy children.
Our latest addition is Tildenville Elementary which received its first delivery this week. By December, Cape View Elementary in Brevard County will join the others. Our hope is that the Hi-Five program will not only feed children, but help ease the economic burden experienced by struggling families.
As one parent told a faculty member not long ago: “I rely on the food I get from the school to calculate my monthly budget.”
Laura Kozar, Food and Nutrition Services OCPS
Free-school-lunch program soars as more area families struggle – Orlando Sentinel, Dave Weber
Childhood Hunger Programs Manager