As schools across Florida close down for the summer, more than one million students are on their own in finding food during the day. That’s where the Summer BreakSpot Program steps in, to offer a hand.
Sponsored by the state Department of Agriculture, BreakSpot provides free meals – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – along with snacks for kids statewide. Last year, the program served over 14 million meals at more than four thousand schools, churches and community centers from June through August.
“It is a program that is designed to insure that children who are typically accustomed to receiving meals at school during the year, still have an opportunity to receive a nutritious meal when they’re out on their summer vacation,” said Lakeisha Hood, who oversees the program inside the Division of Food Nutrition and Wellness within the Ag Department.
“We actually operate in every county in the state; we have over 130 sponsors of the program,” Hood said. “We have one of the largest summer feeding programs in the U.S., and we’re very proud of that.”
In a written statement, Florida Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried said providing access to fresh, nutritious food for children is a top priority, to help families deal with struggles with adequate nutrition, food deserts, and food insecurity.
“It allows for them to go to any number of sites – sometimes school-based, sometimes community-based – to get a free meal,” said Hood. “Sometimes they can get up to two to three meals. It just depends on the number of meals that site decides to offer. But it could be anything from a breakfast or a snack, to a lunch or a supper meal.”
Among the more that 4,200 feeding locations statewide, there are 29 in Escambia, Santa Rosa, and Okaloosa Counties. All of them must follow exacting guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the required meal pattern.
“Whole grains are included; fresh fruits and vegetables, protein items, and there is some control to sugar and sodium limits that are included in those foods,” said Hood. ‘So we want to make sure that it’s the best meal that they could possibly receive, and it has all the nutrition requirements.”
There are no income eligibility requirements to participate in the Summer BreakSpot program, which has grown by more than 30% in recent years, according to the Agriculture Department.
“Any children who are 18 years or younger can show up to any Summer BreakSpot site throughout the state and receive a meal at no charge,” says Hood. “We promote ‘Fresh from Florida’ products that our summer feeding sites can provide, and expose the children to more of the things that Florida has to offer as far as produce.”
To find your nearest Summer BreakSpot location, visit www.SummerBreakSpot.org.