Class Notes: There is such a thing as a free lunch in Collier schools

JOE LANDON

While they may say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, “they” apparently don’t know about what happens here in Collier County in the summertime.

This June, July and August, there were 171,701 free lunches served to our youth, 18 and younger, thanks to the Kid’s Cafeteria Summer Food Service Program (similar to the National School Lunch Program). The 42 feeding sites, spread across the county, were busy during the early morning hours too, with 128,785 free breakfasts being served as well.

This is all thanks to a great community collaboration involving Collier County Public Schools, the Collier County Parks & Recreation Department, the Hunger & Homeless Coalition, and Kids Against Hunger.

Jim Thomas, from Parks & Rec, made it all happen as the program’s administrator. Kudos to Jim!

Now, this was the second summer of success for the Kid’s Cafeteria, suggested in the spring of 2009 when one of our principals told Superintendent Dennis L. Thompson that students were coming to school hungry on Monday morning, suggesting that they weren’t eating very well at home over the weekend. Thompson helped bring the players to the table and the rest is history.

Looking at the numbers for this past summer and the summer of 2009 combined, an astonishing 335,280 free lunches were served to kids, along with 253,203 free breakfasts. And the good news is, for any student, a school breakfast is free for the asking, each and every school day, all year long.

In a school district like ours, with an economically needy percentage of 58 percent of our student population (students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch), student needs are being met not only in our classrooms, but just as importantly, in our cafeterias, including in the Kid’s Cafeterias over the summer. If this isn’t a model program for other communities to look at already, it probably should be.

Speaking of food and eating, the week of October 11th will be celebrated as National School Lunch Week here in Collier County and elsewhere. This past school year, the school district’s nutrition services department served 4.5 million student lunches including 4.3 million portions of fruits and vegetables. And Collier students enjoyed 5.8 million calcium-rich servings of milk last year. The School Lunch Week theme this year — School Lunch, What’s on Your Tray? The idea is to help students learn that eating a healthy, nutritious school lunch will help them get the most out of their action-packed school day.

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