Education

Manatee County schools opens 58 sites - including two buses - to feed children over the summer

BRADENTON -- Sitting at a low, plastic folding table Thursday under the walkway at Southeast High School, Stefany Rios fed her three daughters a free lunch.

"This is awesome," she said as she helped 1-year-old Allison Rios. "It's such a great help."

Rios' two older children, 2-year-old Gala Rios and 8-year-old Shamya Sligh, helped themselves to cheeseburgers and chocolate milk from one of two Manatee County School District buses transformed into mobile feeding buses to serve lunch to hungry children.

During the summer, children in Manatee County can eat a free lunch at 58 sites. A mobile feeding bus serves three sites south of the river and a second bus -- new this summer -- stops at three locations north of the river, as the Food and Nutrition Services Department for the school district tries to serve at new places where hungry children might gather.

Twenty-seven district schools will serve lunches as students take summer school or do other remedial work.

A number of community organizations such as churches also serve free student lunches.

While the food buses have already rolled out, most of the programs start Monday, said Jessica Anderson, FNS marketing and communications director.

"The numbers will increase then," Anderson said.

Nearly 100 children ate lunch Thursday at Southeast High School before the bus continued to other locations.

Children eating at Southeast had special visitors, too. Members of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization who play for the Bradenton Marauders came by to share lunch with the children and help set up and clean up the tables.

"We're privileged to be in this position," said Jonathan Schwind, an injured player waiting to get back in the lineup. "It's our responsibility to come out whenever we can and help the community."

The buses were retired from the Manatee County school fleet and donated to the Food and Nutrition Services Department. The buses were retrofitted to hold food and coolers and wrapped with an eye-catching sign. An awning was installed so children can sit in the shade to eat. Last summer, one bus fed between 150 and 200 students a day at three locations.

"The transportation has been an awesome help," said Skye Grundy, a specialist with the food and nutrition services department. "This is all about feeding the kids."

To find a summer feeding site nearby, visit summerfoodflorida.org.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.

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