Putting the Heat on Summer Hunger

For thousands of children in Southwest Florida, summer not only means no school, but no lunch.

Nationally, about 22 million children receive free or reduced-price meals daily through the National School Lunch Program, according to Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks and the nation's largest hunger relief organization. Harry Chapin Food Bank is an affiliate of Feeding America.

Locally, in Lee County, more than 70 percent of schoolchildren qualify for the federal program. In Collier County, more than 60 percent of schoolchildren qualify. Summer can not only be a time of fun, but a time of wondering where your next meal will come from.

To help make up the gap, a Summer Feeding program is administered by the school districts and parks and recreation programs. The program provides breakfast, lunch and snacks for kids and teens 18 years of age and younger.

By accessing the site here, kids and parents can enter their address and find locations near them including days and times.

The Harry Chapin Food Bank helps by holding mobile pantries at various summer feeding locations to help meet the food needs of families whose children may be on free or reduced lunch. Each mobile pantry can deliver 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of food, able to feed from 150 to 250 families.

At a recent mobile pantry at the Golden Gate Community Center, Diane, a nurse, attested to how much a pantry can help families in summer.

She was still wearing her uniform as she carried several bags full of produce, bread, canned goods, meat and other items. "In the summertime, the kids are home," said Diane, who has three teen-age boys and a 6-year-old to feed. The pantry gets empty pretty fast, she said. "It helps, It's a big help."

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