On Friday, August 17th as children prepared to return to Orange County Schools, Second Harvest Food Bank was still busy providing the last batch of summer meals to community centers, summer camps and churches.
The Summer Food Service Program helps bridge the nutritional gap during school vacation when children lack access to school cafeterias.
For many children summer is a time of carefree play, visits to relatives in distant places and a sense of freedom from the daily demands of the classroom. That’s what I remember most about my childhood summers.
But for many others the reality is quite different. The stark contrast reveals itself as I visit sites where oppressive heat descends from the searing sun then rises from roads and sidewalks. This is a time where parents find themselves challenged, unable to rely on school cafeterias that for ten months have provided their kids with at least one wholesome meal per day. Where those fortunate enough to hold down jobs must now enlist the aid of family or friends to look after their young.
In the absence of such support, summer camps and churches serve as safe havens where children may interact, learn and live out those dreamy days that were my reality.
Many parents are single moms in Holden Heights, Parramore, Taft, Midway, Lake Mann, Bithlo, Pine Hills, and in hidden pockets of poverty few tourists ever get to see. For them, summer can be a time of stress and increased economic burden.
The chatter of tiny voices fills the main hall at New Beginnings church on Semoran Boulevard. A large purple bus is parked outside, ready to take the wide-eyed kids on a field trip far away from the inner city. Their lunches safely packed in Styrofoam containers. This is happy time!
A more somber scene plays out at Restore Orlando on Kaley Avenue as Sarah Pylant tells me that vandals have targeted the faith based summer camp; damaging phone lines and air conditioning equipment. She now ushers the children to the playground where meals must be served outdoors. The kids are oblivious. They love the jungle gym! Sarah keeps a close eye on them lest they stray in this marginalized neighborhood two blocks from Orange Blossom Trail.
Not far away on The Trail, HI-Tech Tutoring is a stone’s throw from the East West Expressway. It is tucked away in a commercial building that houses a wide range of businesses from bail bondsmen to translation services. On the second floor, accessible via a tiny elevator, one emerges into a labyrinth of hallways leading every which way. I’ve been visiting HI-Tech for five years and still get lost. When I do, I simply close my eyes and listen carefully for the distinct sound of children at play. I follow my ears until I reach the small room that houses the center. The Orlando Magic has refurbished the place. I wonder if I’ve strolled into the wrong room. The trademark blue and hoop theme leaps at me from freshly painted walls. New computers sit on tables. Children gleefully peck away at keyboards. Ernestine Mosely and her daughter Holly have created a wonderful environment far from the danger and traffic of The Trail.
Variations on those themes play out at every site we have sponsored. Each one as unique as the children they host.
Between June 10th and August 17th, a total of 49 operating days, Second Harvest Food Bank and its summer partners managed to feed an average of 1,361 children daily.
A total of 66,730 lunches and snacks, including hot meals twice weekly were served at 21 sites in 3 counties. That’s 77,632 pounds in 49 days.
The total food value amounted to $135,642 or $2,768 per day.
Since Second Harvest launched the program in 2008, 233,760 meals have been served – well over a quarter million pounds valued at $474,000.
The Summer Food Service Program, also known as “Summer Break Spot”, is subsidized by Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It allows sponsors such as us to recruit, oversee and provide food to children 18 years of age or under at eligible sites in low-income areas.
For more information on the Summer Food Service Program, follow this link http://www.summerfoodflorida.org/
Childhood Hunger Program Manager