Advocates demand reversal of Hillsborough County’s “no go” on expanded free school meals

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Proponents demand child nutrition programs in Hillsborough County schools are extended and expanded. Earlier this week, several activists gathered near Miles Elementary in East Tampa on the first day of school. They were drawing attention to the need for school children to be fed before their learning day starts. Hillsborough lags behind much of Florida but some say the solutions are easy.

The Child Nutrition Act is set to expire at the end of this year if Congress doesn’t vote to reauthorize it. The Act funds either free or reduced school meals. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report more than 2 million school-age children in Florida are effected. Olivia Babis of Florida Consumer Action Network, addressed the handful of supporters from a lectern covered with personal stories of families that depend on the free student meals. Babis said a child’s adequate caloric intake is essential.

Community Eligibility Provision is a proposed federal program which would expand the number of students eligible to get a free breakfast or lunch. Hillsborough County has rejected a bid to participate. If the county joins the program then the number of students, currently 61 percent of Hillsborough students are eligible, could increase. Reverend Russel Meyer, Executive Director for the Florida Council of Churches, said the current situation is a better blueprint for the future than a public-private solution.

Representative Betty Reed for the Florida House district 61 and School Board member, April Griffin, were unable to attend the rally. Both women expressed in statements that they are interested in exploring the Community Eligibility Provision. Reed said; quote: …sometimes that is all the food some children get that day” end quote.