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Pasco, Hernando Restaurants Offer Free Food For Students Kept From School Meals

restaurant storefront
Jam's Café Facebook page
Jam’s Café in Spring Hill is one of a number of restaurants in Pasco and Hernando counties offering free meals to students who are being kept out of school because of the coronavirus.";s

Restaurants in Pasco and Hernando counties are offering free food to hungry kids who are out of school because of the coronavirus.

As Florida schools remain closed though at least April 15 to slow the spread of COVID-19, children will be left without their prescribed lunch and breakfast that they are normally given through school programs. In response, some local restaurants have decided to help.

“With everything going on, we’ve noticed obviously there’s a lot of places that have not had as much business,” said Tracy Cruz, manager of Jam’s Café in Spring Hill. “So at least this can be so some people can have food in their bellies… We’re a small café, and (owner Debra Soehngen) is trying to help out as much as she can, and it’s out of her pocket.”

Jam’s Café will be offering free breakfast and lunch to all children who come in with a parent. 

Soehngen said that the plan right now is to offer the food until the end of the month, but she is prepared to extend it into April and beyond if the pandemic continues to keep schools closed.

“I was a single mother too, so I understand what it is to struggle. And I have six children, so it was a struggle for me when I was in my situation, so I get it,” Soehngen said. “There’s a lot of people out there struggling, even with two people working, let alone one person working.” 

Other restaurants in the area offering similar deals include Antonietti Pizzeria in Port Richey and Up 4 Breakfast, a breakfast-serving sit-down Spring Hill restaurant. Management of both feel it’s their responsibility to help children of their customers right.

“(We’re) just trying to shed some light on them and have them not worry,” said Megin Santacroce, general manager of Antonietti Pizzeria. “I have a six-year-old, so she’s definitely asking questions. Anyway they don’t have to worry or worry where their next meal is coming from, it definitely hits home for us.”

“We just want to help out our local people, our community,” said Up 4 Breakfast owner John Monticciolo. “Our customers, to us, are our extended family. We’ve known some of them for many, many years.”

As of Wednesday, Pasco County has confirmed three people have tested positive for the virus, Hernando County has yet to announce any cases.

Pasco County Schools is also offering free meals for students on a drive-thru basis at seven school sites between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. from March 23-27. Anyone who plans to visit one of those sites is asked to fill out a form in advance.

Hernando County Schools will be providing similar drive-thru meals, as well as grab and go meals from school buses and mobile feeding vehicles, starting March 23. More information can be found here.

Dylan Rudolph is the WUSF Radio News Intern for the spring 2020 semester.
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