The Summer BreakSpot program that provides nutritious meals and recreation to needy children across Florida is being further expanded this year.
This summer, about 3,400 local sites such as schools, parks and recreation centers, churches and community organizations will offer up to two meals each day.
The program is funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Although it has existed for more than 25 years, Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam led an initiative when he took office to assume control of the program from Florida Department of Education, re-brand it Summer BreakSpot and expand it.
Ongoing expansion of the program has been among Putnam’s key goals.
“We expect to see an increase again this year in the number of children and number of meals served,” said his press secretary Erin Gillespie.
Nearly 60 percent of the children in Florida qualify for free or reduced-price school meals under the USDA’s child nutrition program, which includes Summer BreakSpot, as well as the breakfast and school nutrition program during the school year.
Last year, via more than 3,000 locations in all 67 Florida counties, Summer BreakSpot provided more than 12 million meals to about 300,000 children.
New mobile units transported breakfasts and lunches to children in under-served communities.
This year, in Broward, Orange, Palm Beach and Pasco counties, fleets of renovated school
buses, trucks and vans will deliver summer meals to parks and recreation centers, affordable
housing units and other locations that lack an established Summer BreakSpot site.
FDACS has also expanded the ways families and children can learn about feeding locations and schedules. They can dial 2-1-1, text “FoodFL” to 877-877 or visit a dedicated web site at Summer FoodFlorida.org, Gillespie said. Information is also now available on a free Nutrislice mobile app that is being deployed within the school system to show menus and provide nutritional information to parents.
Barbara Haywood, area manager of the food and nutrition department at the School Board of Highlands County, praised FDACS for its increased promotion of the program.
“We’ve had people tell us they’ve seen TV commercials or that they’ve called the 2-1-1 number,” Haywood said. “We also do our local newspaper articles and signage and have our own media campaign.”
As a result of state and local efforts, awareness and the reach of the program are growing, Haywood said.
Last year, Highlands County served 81,024 meals, including breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and dinner. Each individual site can serve up to two meals a day. The majority offer breakfast and lunch because they are two most important meals of the day, Haywood said.
Highlands County has 35 feeding sites this year, including 15 of its 17 schools. Other sites include YMCA facilities, private day care centers, Boys & Girls Clubs and vacation Bible schools, as well as Star Center, a community site.
Tim Thompson, assistant director of the school board’s nutrition program, said the county has made a concerted effort to expand Summer BreakSpot.
“We’ve tried over the last several years to do more outreach and market the program more to smaller feeding centers and people that have not participated before,” he said. “We think it’s a good program, so we try to get out there and talk to people and get our message out to the community. We tell people it’s a good program because it has a very low barrier to entry. All they have to do is fill out a little bit of paperwork. And after that, they get meals for everyone who comes to their facility. And who doesn’t want to put ‘breakfast and lunch provided’ on their flier for the summer?’”
During the school year, Thompson said, Florida schools do a good job of feeding children that do not have the family resources to consistently enjoy healthy, nutritious food. “The summer feeding program allows us to fill the gap during which they would have no meals because they’re not in school,” he said.
Because that goal is so important, said Robin Safley, director of FDACS’s division of food, nutrition and wellness, the agency has made a sustained effort, by working with Florida Department of Children and Families, to cultivate comprehensive data on where needy children are located.
The Summer BreakSpot program is enormously important to the well-being of Florida’s underprivileged children, Gillespie said.
“Millions of our children rely on the school lunch program to get them through the week during the school year,” she said. “And obviously those children are still hungry during the summer. So this program provides a way for those families to ensure that their children are able to get healthy meals during the summer. And that helps prepare them better for the school year that’s coming up.”
For more information on the Summer BreakSpot program, visit SummerFoodFlorida.org.