INVERNESS — Students are on summer break, but those who qualify for free and reduced lunches in the Citrus County School District still require food.
That is when it takes the entire community to come together to help, said Citrus County Blessings Director Grace Hengesbach.
To fill in the food gaps during school break, Blessings has introduced a pilot summer food program “Feed the Kids” at Lakes Region Library in Inverness.
Initially, the hope was to bring the pilot program to four elementary schools, but the nonprofit organization could not raise enough funds.
“We are giving every qualifying student a bag of weekend food in addition to one bag of fruit and one bag of vegetables provided by the Community Food Bank of Citrus County,” Hengesbach said. “Our primary goal is to give food for these kids when they are not in school.”
Hengesbach says while the Citrus County School District does offer a summer school program, students must travel to a middle school — and, that is where the problem lies as many do not have transportation.
“We understand not every child can make it to the schools, so we wanted to create a central location to the neighborhoods in case they have to bike or walk,” she said.
With funding help from Inverness Kiwanis and the Dream Foundation of Tampa, Blessings made this a reality for 40 students, but needed a central location. That is where the Citrus County Library System’s offer to use the Lakes Region Library parking lot came into play.
“We hope in the future we are at every library in the county — because they are usually centrally located to where school children live,” Hengesbach said.
The current program will continue every week on Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. through on Aug. 2 — with school coming back in session on Aug. 10.
During the first food distribution, parents and children trickled in to receive their week’s worth of food, and within 15 minutes everything was divided up for the families.
By the end of the distribution, a total of 50 heads of lettuces, 100 tomatoes, 100 onions, 100 cucumbers, 50 small bags of baby carrots, 100 pounds of potatoes, 100 apples, 150 oranges and 50 trays of strawberries were given to families.
Nine-year-old Samantha Oriel couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as she carried multiple bags to her car with her mom.
“This is our food for the week,” she said. “I’m happy.”
“We want to give as many positive experiences to kids as possible throughout the summer when they are not in school,” Hengesbach said. “As more funding comes in we hope to expand to new locations in the future, with the hope that every library will have a weekly food truck.”
To find more information or to volunteer or donate, visit http://citruscountyblessings.com/ or call 352-341-7707.
Contact Chronicle reporter Julie Gorham at 352-563-3236 or firstname.lastname@example.org.