Nonprofit Mobilizes to Replace Lost School Meals Across Tampa Bay Area

Staffers and volunteers prepare free kid's meals as part of an initiative to provide for children while schools are closed during the pandemic, on March 23, 2020 in Tampa, Florida.

Staffers and volunteers prepare free kid's meals as part of an initiative to provide for children while schools are closed during the pandemic, on March 23, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Martha Asencio Rhine/Tampa Bay Times)

Tina Buckner’s fiance was laid off last week from his job as a metal fabricator because of the coronavirus. He was told not to come back.

Now, the stay-at-home mom is scrambling to find work and struggling to feed her sons, Hunter, 6, and Grayson, 2.

“We need help, mostly with food,” said Buckner, 29. “I can’t even afford wipes and the shelves are empty.”

Before the coronavirus crisis, Hunter would get a free breakfast and lunch at school. But his was not one of just 23 Hillsborough schools giving out bagged breakfasts and lunches Monday on what would have been the first day of school after spring break.

That’s in a district where free meals are provided every school day to about two-thirds of students in the nation’s eighth-largest school district. It’s a similar story in Pinellas and Pasco counties where only a small number of schools were providing meal services.

To try and plug that gap, Feeding Tampa Bay on Monday opened 17 meal centers across the Tampa Bay area and prepped to give out about 4,000 meals. The venues operated like a drive-through with families able to pick up either lunch or dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast for every kid in their car. It comes at a time when food pantries have reported donations of unsold food from grocery stores have fallen by as much as 80 percent after the coronavirus prompted panic buying.

Continue reading on Tampa Bay Times.

This story is part of a collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times through FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Christopher O'Donnell, Staff Writer, Tampa Bay Times

Jeffrey S. Solochek, Tampa Bay Times

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