Florida Partnership Adapts School Nutrition Programs to COVID-19

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One in five Florida children struggles with hunger, and many families rely on school breakfasts, after-school snacks and summer meals. No Kid Hungry Florida has provided more than $1.7 million in grants to 38 schools and organizations. Photo credit Shutterstock licensed.

TALLAHASSEE, FL — Some Florida kids are back in school, while others are doing virtual or hybrid learning. Groups fighting childhood hunger are working to ensure they all have access to school nutrition programs. One in five Florida children struggles with hunger, and many families rely on school breakfasts, after-school snacks and summer meals.

Sky Beard directs the No Kid Hungry campaign in Florida, which has partnered with the media giant Discovery, Inc., for “Turn Up! Fight Hunger.” It’s an initiative which, in less than a year, has connected kids nationwide with more than 500 million meals.

“We’re really working just to make sure that regardless of where kiddos are experiencing school – living room, classroom – that school meals are available to them,” Beard said.

Discovery, Inc. is using its slate of television networks to publicize the initiative, she said. Research shows that being hungry can affect a child’s school performance — from energy to concentration and even self-esteem. When the pandemic began, Beard said, many families worried about how to access these programs without their kids going to school every day. But some school districts got creative — with grab-and-go meals for families to pick up, or putting food on school buses to reach families with transportation or time barriers.

“How schools and communities are feeding children now is not how we ever envisioned children needed to be fed,” she said, “and it takes an incredible amount of flexibility.”

She said the partnership also is advocating for that flexibility from policymakers. The campaign also is working to engage nonprofits, community groups, food banks and individuals to provide support. That’s where the Discovery TV networks come in, said Alexa Verveer, the company’s senior vice president for public policy, corporate and government affairs. You might have seen “Turn Up! Fight Hunger” on channels such as the Food Network or HGTV.

“We’re able to galvanize the power of our reach and the fact that we have passionate audiences in order to truly make an impact on important issues,” she said.

She said she hopes their reach, a nightly audience of 25% of American women, will help the campaign go even further.

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