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Thursday, August 18, 2022

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What Parents Should Know About Free School Meals – And How to Find Them!

It’s been nearly a year since COVID-19 first hit Florida, posing a devastating health and economic crisis across the state. In that short time, many families have seen their daily lives turned upside down as parents have lost jobs and wages and children have had to adjust to learning remotely or in classrooms with many new safety protocols in place.

While much has changed, one thing remains the same: kids in Florida and across our nation rely on the nutrition they receive from school meals to learn, grow and reach their full potential. In fact, school meals are more important than ever: today with the pandemic raging on, well over one million kids here in Florida could face hunger.

This school year, schools and community organizations can offer meals free of charge to all kids. One thing we want parents to know is that these meals really are for all kids and they aren’t in limited supply. In fact, when more kids participate it helps students, parents and the whole school community.

Here are 5 things we want readers to know about school meals:

  1. Finding a meal site near you is as simple as sending a text!
    You can text “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877-877 to find a site near you where you can pick-up meals safely, conveniently and free of charge. You can also visit No Kid Hungry’s Meal Finder Map to find out when and where meals are being served in your community.
  2. They can help stretch your food budget.
    As a result of the pandemic, many families are finding it harder to pay bills and also buy groceries. By providing up to three meals a day for kids, even if they’re not attending school in person, school meals allow parents to stretch their food budget. Many families whose children may not have qualified for free school meals before this crisis are now finding them to be an important lifeline.
  3. They create a sense of normalcy for students during an uncertain time.
    Many kids are missing their friends, their afterschool activities and their daily routine. By providing a consistent thing kids can look forward to daily that reminds them of a normal school day, school meals provide a sense of normalcy. Even if they aren’t seeing their friends in class or eating together in the cafeteria, knowing they’re eating the same meal as their classmates can create a sense of connection.
  4. They alleviate stress for parents juggling enormous responsibility.
    This is an incredibly stressful time for parents. They’ve had to make difficult decisions about which educational format is best for their children. Many moms and dads are wearing several different hats trying to work while also helping with distance learning. By taking meal prep off the to-do list, school meals make it easier for busy parents already stretched to the brink.
  5. When your kids eat school meals, it helps ensure the programs can continue to serve the kids who need them most.
    By picking up meals for your kids, you aren’t taking anything away from a family who might need it more. In fact, higher participation helps compensate for the added cost of adapting these programs to safely reach kids and families during a pandemic and improving job security for the hardworking folks who feed kids in good times and bad.

Sky Beard is the director of No Kid Hungry Florida, a campaign of the national non-profit Share Our Strength. For more information, visit nokidhungry.org/florida.

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