With schools all over Florida closing due to the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of students faced being left without their free breakfast and lunch. The schools’ quick solution? Free grab-and-go meals for all students on any day that classes are canceled.
But what about days when school isn’t scheduled, like during the current spring break?
Under federal law, schools are not permitted to fund meals for students during times when they normally would have been off from school. As a result, Alachua County would not be permitted to provide free grab-and-go meals from March 20 to March 27.
But with the help from Campus USA Credit Union, some local restaurants and community volunteers, the schools are providing more than 1,400 free meals to any child up to age 18 throughout the no-school period, regardless of whether they receive free and reduced meals.
Freddie Wehbe, the founder of Wehbe Marketing, said he offered Alachua County Public Schools any help necessary.
“I’ve always believed the community will help the businesses that help the community and this is an opportunity for these businesses to do their little part,” Wehbe said.
Wehbe’s clients include restaurants such as Mi Apa Latin Cafe, Gator Dockside and Gator BTW, who all agreed to help provide free grab-and-go meals during the students’ spring break.
“We decided to take the three most popular kids-menu meals and package them in a to-go box,” Wehbe said. “There will be a protein, a side and either a fruit cup or a cookie in that meal.”
Campus USA CEO Jerry Benton said the company was immediately interested in helping students and families when they heard of a possible discrepancy in funds over spring break.
“We have always been a big supporter of Alachua County schools and a big supporter of our community, so anytime that there’s a need in our community I think people know that they can reach out to us,” Benton said.
With a total estimated budget of $42,000, Campus USA is providing nearly 90% of the funding for Wehbe’s school lunch endeavor.
“There’s certainly a lot of people in need and I think others that have the ability to be able to help should,” Benton said. “We’ve been in the community for 85 years and we are going to be here for many more years, so we want to make sure that we are helping out those that need it at any given time.”
During spring break, students can return to the 34 different sites around the county that have been providing free grab-and-go meals on days when school was scheduled.
According to Jackie Johnson, the spokeswoman for Alachua County Public Schools, the county had given out more than 2,500 breakfasts and 2,500 lunches before the spring hiatus.
Alachua appears to be doing more to feed students than other counties, Johnson said.
“We set up 34 sites that we’ve had in place this week throughout the county, and that’s pretty impressive compared to Broward County Public Schools,” she said. “They’ve got 10 times our number of students and they only have 9 sites set up.”
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