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Hillsborough County Changes School Food Distribution To Weekly Pick-Ups

A family picks up bags of food from a canvas pop up tent in front of a school.
Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
A family picks up a week's worth of breakfasts and lunches at Graham Elementary School in Tampa. for their three children

The Hillsborough County School District wants to minimize contact between families and the employees who deliver food to better minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

To keep children, parents, and school workers safer, the county has reduced its food distribution program to one day a week: Wednesdays, down from one meal each day being handed out.

a man wearing a suit and mask hands loaves of bread to a family through their car window.
Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Hillsborough County School Superintendent Addison Davis helps distribute bags of bread to families.

Superintendent Addison Davis was at Graham Elementary School in Tampa Wednesday handing out food bags. This particular school has a nearly 100% free and reduced lunch rate.

He said each child gets one pound of lunch meat, a loaf of bread, milk, juice, and snacks – as well as breakfast items.

“It’s just another opportunity for us to respect what's going on with our community, and at the same time, give our students the necessities to be successful,” Davis said.

Families can pick up a week's worth of breakfasts and lunches every Wednesday at the same 147 sites as before between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Buses will also take food into some neighborhoods for pick-up the same day.

Graham Elementary principal Carisa Spirers said keeping kids fed is vital to keeping them educated.

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“They rely on having that meal when they come to school every day,” Spirers said. “If a child doesn't eat, if they don't have the nourishment in their system, the result is not a good one in learning environments.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s a direct link between children missing meals and poor performance in school.

a woman wearing a cloth mask pulls bags of food off a metal cart.
Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF Public Media
Mara Vargas, kindergarten teacher assistant, helps re-stock bags of food for families picking up at Graham Elementary School.

The CDC says participation in the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture School Breakfast Program increases academic grades and standardized test scores, reduces absenteeism, and improves cognitive performance.

Skipping breakfast, and a deficiency in adequate nutritious food, leads to lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness, inability to focus, and repeating grades.

Each student will receive a bag of food that needs to be refrigerated, and another that can stay at room temperature. The school system said it’s important to note that these food bags will weigh over 10 pounds together, and recommends children bring an empty backpack if they're walking or biking to the pick-up location.

Drivers can pull through school entrances and employees will hand them their bags.

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I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.