SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — For the past two years, a federally funded program allowed all K-12 students in public schools to eat for free while at school.
That program is now set to end on June 30 and it could impact the one out of five children in Central Florida who face food insecurity, according to Second Harvest Food Bank.
What You Need To Know
- Congress enacted a free meal waiver program that allowed children to get free school meals without needing to fill out an application
- Without action from Congress, the program is set to end on June 30
- Half of the more than 66,000 Seminole County Public School students will be impacted if no action is taken
- The district urges parents to sign up for its meal benefits program to see if they qualify as soon as the application window opens in July
“This program means a lot, especially during the summer,” Hilda Halving, Red Apple Dining Assistant Manager at Pine Crest Elementary, said. “In the past years we have a lot of kids who say it was the only meal they had, so that breaks your heart.”
Halving began working in the kitchens at Seminole County Public Schools (SCPS) to spend more time with her son 13 years ago. Now that her son has graduated high school, she treats every student she serves as if they were her own child.
“It feels wonderful because I only have one kid,” Halving said. “I wish I could have more kids but God sent me one, so all these kids here are my kids.”
Halving understands what the free meal waiver program meant for children at her school.
Because of the financial strain facing many families during the pandemic, Congress enacted a free meal waiver program that allowed children to get free school meals, without needing to fill out an application.
In Seminole County, that assistance allowed the district to provide meals to about 39,500 children.
“When you see a lot of kids, those are your future struggle like that, it breaks your heart,” she said.
The school district has been able to serve over 3.5 million free meals to children this school year, who otherwise would have had to pay for them.
With the free program ending soon, more than half of the 66,000 SCPS students will be impacted next school year.
The district is urging parents to sign up for its meal benefits program to see if they qualify, as soon as the application window opens in July.
“Because all these kids, they got to eat,” she said. “They’re the future. They’re our future so, we feed all these kids no matter what.”
SCPS also wants to let parents know free meals are still available this summer for all children in the county. The students just need to show up at one of its more than 30 summer brightspot locations in person and eat inside.
The meals provided by the district’s Red Dining Program are all fresh and contain the recommended nutrition a child needs.