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Manna expands school resource officer food program

Bruce Reyes-Chow

Students who need to see their school’s resource officer may get a little more than a meeting. They may get a snack.

“Our school resource officers were having to (pay) out of their pockets to buy food to have in their office,” said De De Flounlacker, the executive director of Manna Food Pantries talking about Manna’s School Resource Officer Food Program.

“Because they had kids that were coming in saying they were hungry. Or they were ‘hangry.' They were kids who were getting in trouble because they hadn’t eaten.”

The program to provide school resource officers with food for students who need a quick bite has been going on for about four years. It started with the Pensacola Police Department and quickly expanded to include the Escambia County Sherriff’s Office.

“We are in 17 schools in Escambia County," said Flounlacker. "And then this year we branched out to the Santa Rosa County Sherriff’s Office. So now we are in 19 schools in Santa Rosa County through the SRO Program.”

Manna Food Pantries coordinates the delivery of the food with the law enforcement agencies and resource officers who are involved. “And what happens is we give them boxes of food. It’s grab-and-go items, snacky kind of stuff (like) granola bars and those kinds of things. So if a student comes in and says ‘I’m hungry,' they don’t have to put it in a microwave, they can just grab it and eat it.”

Over the past year, Manna Food Pantries provided food to over 35,000 people in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. For the most part, this involves providing some food security for families. Flounlacker says that if, for any reason, a school resource officer needs to make a home visit, that officer can be another set of eyes.

“If, when the school resource officer is there, they discover that one of the issues that the family has is with food all (the resource officer) has to do is call us and say ‘Hey, I’ve got a family that needs food. (The officer) gets to come here and pick it up, or in the case of Santa Rosa we’ve got some (food) stored up there, and then they go back to that home. They knock on the door again. They have the same uniform on, except now they have bags of food; healthy food, in their arms to give that family.”

Since the program expanded to Santa Rosa County this year, Manna has reached the limit of its coverage area. But Flounlacker says there may be room for further expansion. “I think this is a great program that could go statewide. Not by us, but I think it is a good model for how to build community policing relationships with the food bank being a part of that process. And so, again, we are very humbled to be able to do it.”

Any school resource officer that would like to know more about starting a similar program or to get involved locally should contact their agency and Manna Food Pantries to find out how to get started.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.