‘We have to feed the children’: Polk schools offer free meals to students amid pandemic

Coronavirus

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – COVID-19 pandemic or not, school districts realize children still need to eat nutritious food, even if they’re not able to go to school.

Polk County Public Schools packaged 20,000 breakfast and lunch meal packages to hand out to students at nearly three dozen sites across Polk County Tuesday.

Officials say they will see how many people came out to get meals and adjust the number of meals accordingly.

For some children, some of the only nutritious meals they eat are at school.

All students in Polk County Public Schools receive free lunch and that is continuing now even with the pandemic closing schools.

“There is a great need here in Polk County. We have a big migrant population and we’re making sure we take care of that. We have a big homeless population, we’re taking care of that,” said Jacqueline Byrd, Polk County school superintendent.

Byrd was on hand at Spessard L. Holland Elementary in Bartow Tuesday morning handing out meals.

“We have to feed the children, let’s feed the children because we have the food to do it,” she said.

Items included a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, hard-boiled egg, carrots, milk, cereal, and fruit.

“It’s crazy out there between the virus itself and how the people are reacting in the stores. It’s all-around crazy,” said Bradley Gillooly, a parent.

“I was kind of caught on guard doing all this, stay home. I think it’s just wonderful to put forth this effort to help out the families that perhaps might need it,” said Janice Farris, a great-grandmother.

Parents drive up to the site and gloved staff members hand the bags through the window. Students must be present to receive the meal.

“It is more of a grab-and-go type. We’re not trying to commingle anyone in this,” said Byrd. “We have them get their meals, and we keep it moving so we don’t commingle.”

Byrd is asking people to contact the school board if there are pockets of their community underserved by the current offering of locations at (863) 534-0500.

Meals will be provided every day that school is closed, not including spring break next week.

District employees are being paid this Friday for the full month of March, Byrd said. She does not know yet the plan for employees’ salaries if the closure is extended past March 30.

To find a list of sites, click here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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