The first week of the county school district’s free meal pickup in response to COVID-19 proved to be popular among families.
More than 130,000 free meals were given out to children and young adults 18 and under from Monday through Friday last week, according to the Alachua County Public Schools Facebook page. On weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the school district’s Food and Nutrition Services staff have been packing cold to-go breakfasts and lunches at 40 school and community locations across the county.
The school district has also set up bus routes to distribute the meals at 37 additional apartment areas, churches and other community locations at varying times between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Although the breakfasts and lunches are served on weekdays, children and young adults 18 and under can also pick up meals for the weekend on Fridays. They don’t have to be a public school student, and they don’t have to be eligible for free or reduced lunch to receive a meal.
“I just think it's fantastic. I’m so happy with the school board for this,” said Jennifer Reardon, a Gainesville stay-at-home mother of three. “You can tell they really put a lot of effort into fine-tuning the process.”
The 43-year-old said she’s been walking with her kids and occasionally her three nephews to either Meadowbrook Elementary School, where her two daughters went to school, or Buchholz High School, each day to pick up food.
Their trips to the west Gainesville schools have provided a sense of consistency and enjoyment to the kids’ days away from school, while also allowing her to limit her number of grocery store visits, she said.
Reardon’s children and nephews have received foods such as individually packed fruits, vegetables, peanut butter and jelly Uncrustables, boiled eggs, chips, fruit juice and cereal bars.
The district was unable to provide meals during Spring Break from March 23 to March 27 because it wasn’t going to be fully reimbursed by the federal government, but local community members such as CAMPUS USA Credit Union, Mi Apá Latin Café and Gator’s Dockside stepped in to provide free meals during that time despite the struggle local businesses were facing from COVID-19. Now, because school is in session, the district is federally funded and able to provide the free meals at designated pickup sites, which is similar to the county’s Summer Meals Program, according to Food and Nutrition Services Director Maria Eunice.
“I can't express how much appreciation I have that they've gone above and beyond to create this program for the kids,” Reardon said.
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