An addition to the Alachua County Public Schools Summer Meals Program will help feed students who can’t reach sites where free meals will be served during the summer.
The Mobile Meal program, which begins June 13, is part of the Alachua County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services Summer Meals Program. Children living in Linton Oaks, Hidden Oaks and Tower Oaks apartment complexes can get a free meal Monday through Thursday when the Mobile Meal bus rolls into their neighborhood.
The three apartment complexes are part of the Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG), an organization that helps children and families in southwest Gainesville neighborhoods by providing services like tutoring, counseling and community dinners.
The Mobile Meal Program will begin at those locations based on need for the service, said Caron Rowe, a food service specialist who also works in marketing and promotions for the Alachua County Public Schools.
“They’re in food insecure areas and they usually rely on meals during the school year,” Rowe said. “So we’re working in the communities of the SWAG area because those are the kids that are at the highest need for meals during the summer.”
Meals will be served at the SWAG building at Linton Oaks for lunch and breakfast; the pool and picnic area at Hidden Oaks for lunch; and the neighborhood park at Tower Oaks for lunch and breakfast. A covered area where the children can eat will be set up at each neighborhood, and warming and cooling units will keep food and drinks at proper temperatures.
The dates, times and menu for the Summer Meal Program, including the Mobile Meal Program, can be found on the Alachua County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services website or on the School Lunch by Nutrislice application. The dates and times for meals will vary, said Rowe.
Jenn Petion, the director of community and government relations for Partnership in Strong Families, which operates the SWAG Family Resource Center, said the resource center helps several communities with services like a food pantry, summer programs for children, and counseling. But transportation makes it difficult for people to reach the center.
The mobile program will reach a whole new set of children that may not previously have had access to food during the summer months, Petion said.
“This is a huge gap and a huge need in these communities,” Petion said. “We’re really excited for what the mobile program is going to be able to offer.”
The meals will be prepared at Terwilliger Elementary School, Rowe said.
Parents with infants can call the Alachua County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services office ahead of time at 352-955-7539 to receive formula for their babies. The formula must be consumed at the location and cannot be taken home, Rowe said.
The stops at each neighborhood will also include giveaways, games and books for the children, and have music playing, said Rowe.
Latoya Smalls, a Linton Oaks resident, said the children need something productive to do during the summer to keep their mind positive. She said the area is a high-crime neighborhood.
Trai Williams, an 18-year-old Tower Oaks resident, said he will stop by the bus for meals over the summer.
The Summer Meals Program has expanded to 61 locations so far for this summer, Rowe said.
“We served, combined over the summer last year breakfast and lunch, about 98,000 in meals so our goal is to, hopefully, increase about 10 percent each year,” Rowe said. “If we can even reach more children that are hungry during the summer, we’re doing a great job.”