Clay County schools provide free or reduced-price meals for
thousands of low-income children throughout the school year.
But during the summer months, when schools are vacant, many of
those same youngsters go without meals. And that's a problem
that a ministry outreach activist, a state bureaucrat and school
administrators are trying to solve.
The school district is being asked to serve as the sponsor of
the federally funded Summer Food Service Program, which helps
finance meals for needy kids at feeding sites throughout the
Making a pitch to the School Board Thursday were Linda
Standifer of Orange Park, executive director of Action
Ministries Plus, Inc., and Dale Kishbaugh, of the Florida
Department of Education's Food and Nutrition Management office.
"We'd like to have five sites in Orange Park, five in
Middleburg, five in Keystone Heights and five in Green Cove
[Springs]," Standifer said.
She said the school district wouldn't have to do anything
except be the sponsoring agency and provide upfront money for
food, which would be reimbursed by the federal government.
"We want to be a partner with them," she said. "We would do all
the book work, set up all the sites, train the site coordinators
. . ."
Action Ministries Plus, Inc., a mission of the Jacksonville
District of the United Methodist Church, sponsored five feeding
sites in Green Cove Springs last summer, Standifer said.
Private, non-profit organizations, however, are restricted by
federal rules to operating no more than five lunch sites,
whereas no such restrictions apply to local governmental
agencies, such as school boards.
In a county where roughly one in every four public school
students is eligible for free or reduced lunches, Standifer said
the need is much greater than her agency has the ability to meet
due to federal constraints.
To illustrate her point, she cites Florida Department of
Education records which listed 5,779 children eligible for free
or reduced lunch programs in Clay County schools in 1996-97.
The school with the highest number of eligible students was
Charles E. Bennett, where 610 students, or 57.8 percent of the
entire student body, qualified for the program.
Bennett was the only school in the county where more than half
of the student population was eligible for free or reduced
lunches. Two others came close, however: McRae Elementary with
199 students, or 44. …