Summer break & child hunger: free meal sites for kids and teens around Jacksonville

Summer break & child hunger: free meal sites for kids and teens around Jacksonville

Words by Mallory Pace

It is estimated that around 30 million U.S. children received free or reduced-price lunch in 2022 through the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program that has helped millions of children receive nutritionally balanced meals at little to no cost since 1946. In 2022, an estimated 60% of all public school students rely on these meals at school, so when summer break comes around, it’s not always a sense of relief. In Florida, around 55% of children rely on free school lunches, but luckily, with the help from organizations like Summer BreakSpot and No Kid Hungry, hundreds of free meal spots scatter Florida and Jacksonville. 

 

Summer BreakSpot is a federally funded program established to fill the summer hunger gap through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program or Seamless Summer Option. Using their meal finder map found on summerbreakspot.org, you’ll find dozens of locations and their hours offering free breakfast and lunch to kids and teens under eighteen. You can also text the word ‘Food’ or ‘Comida’ to 304-304, or call ‘2-1-1’ to find sites near you. The majority of locations include elementary schools and public libraries across Northeast Florida, including schools and community sites across Duval, St. Johns, Clay County and more. 

 

Menus for each meal at each site in Duval County can also be found on duvalschools.nutrislice.com. Beyond the public schools, here’s a brief list of other locations in Duval County offering free meals from June 10 until August 2.

 

Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-noon

  • Pablo Creek Regional Library, 13295 Beach Blvd. 

 

Monday-Friday, noon-1 p.m.

  • Dallas Graham Branch Library, 2304 Myrtle Ave. N.
  • University Park Branch Library, 3435 University Blvd. N.

 

Monday-Friday, 12:30-1:30 p.m.

  • Bradham and Brooks Branch Library, 1755 Edgewood Ave. W.
  • Regency Square Branch Library, 9900 Regency Square Blvd.

 

Monday-Friday, 1 – 2 p.m.

  • Highlands Regional Library, 1826 Dunn Ave.
  • Charles Webb Wesconnett Regional Library, 6887 103rd St.

 

Free meal sites in St. Johns County can be found at stjohns.k12.fl.us or by texting or calling the previously mentioned numbers. In addition to various elementary and middle schools, other community sites open through July 26 include: 

 

  • Solomon Calhoun Recreation Center: Breakfast: (8-9 a.m.); Lunch (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)

 

  • Ketterlinus Gym: Breakfast (8-8:30 a.m.); Lunch (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)

 

  • W. E. Harris Community Center: Breakfast (8-8:30 a.m.); Lunch (11:30 a.m.-noon)

 

  • Flagler Estates Community Center: Breakfast (8-8:30 a.m.); Lunch (11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.)

 

Roughly 1 in 5 Florida children face hunger, according to Feeding America, so these summer meals are incredibly crucial to many families. Nayshma Jones is a program manager for No Kid Hungry Florida, a national campaign run by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit dedicated to solving problems of hunger and poverty in the U.S. and around the world. Before assuming her role with No Kid Hungry, Jones sat on the other side of the table, working as a public school teacher where she saw first-hand the struggles for students accessing basic necessities for success, like food. With the help and partnership of school districts, nutritional leaders, government organizations and other community-based groups, No Kid Hungry works to lessen the hunger gap both during and after school instructional months on a fiscal level by offering grant opportunities and continuous supportive collaborations with districts in need. 

 

“We’re also a resource provider,” Jones said. “We have a center of best practices where school districts can come in, get information for the particular issue they’re facing at their school and try to implement [a solution] to close that gap for student meals.”

 

On a national level, No Kid Hungry works year-round as a multi-faceted organization that serves to continue large-scale advocacy for child hunger, looking at family economic mobility, developing research surveys, and being an overall resource for communities and other organizations to come together and address this growing issue. One of their recent studies found that 72% of Floridians report finding it more difficult to afford groceries compared to just a year ago, a number that isn’t limited to low-income families — everyone is feeling the painful friction between rising costs and limping incomes. Because more than half of Florida families share fears and realities of food insecurity, especially in the summertime, Jones emphasized the importance of making families aware of the resources around them. 

 

“What really happens is that a lot of people don’t even know that these services exist,” Jones said. “But once they know about and know how to find it, the next part is ‘how do we get there?’” 

 

Having these services available is only the first part to lessening child hunger, accessibility is another key factor that No Kid Hungry has been working to address, including non-congregate rural summer meals, a newly introduced concept that would allow even more accessibility to free summer meals. Jones explained that it could look like mobile distribution where food trucks are set up in concentrated areas where a significant amount of families have trouble with transportation. It could also mean being able to pick up one or multiple meals at a time to bring home, rather than making children eat at the food site each meal, which are the typical current rules. She also said there is funding coming from the USDA to these rural districts and “as we continue to feed into that and support that work, we’re going to see even bigger innovations in that area.”

 

“During the summer, kids are excited that schools are closed, but a lot of these students actually depend on schools for their meals. So then the question comes from parents, ‘how am I going to feed my child over the summer months?’” Jones said. “So you have all of these different issues that are compounding together that are making households food insecure. That’s what we’re really seeing here in Florida.”

 

It’s not just Florida, though — growing food costs are being felt by families across the nation, forcing them to either spend more on food or purchase less nutritional food options. In the same study by No Kid Hungry, 46% of K-12 public school families said they travel to less convenient grocery stores for more affordable food; 45% said they buy less or pass up entirely on more nutritious options like meat, eggs, and other proteins; and 45% reported buying less or no fresh produce. Participants from that study were asked how their lives would be different if they had an unlimited grocery budget and many reported that they would buy much healthier, cleaner and organic foods for their household; cook at home more; or spend more time with their kids and less time worrying about their budget and financial situation. 

 

Child hunger extends beyond the summertime. Policies on a national and local level should continue to be addressed and improved upon to ensure both a better quality of life for families and the success of our children in school and outside of it. Food is energy for the brain, and without proper nutrition, we put our children at risk, and therefore our entire future. 

 

Overall, Jones urges families and readers to know that there are resources and services at their fingertips to utilize and her hope at the end of the day is that someone is made aware of them so their summer can look that much brighter. 

About Mallory Pace

Friends and family knew Mallory Pace would become a writer when she wrote and illustrated a hand-made children’s book in the third grade for her class to read. It didn’t indicate a prodigy-in-the-making, but all the elements of a good storyline were there, waiting to be improved. Now, Mallory is about to graduate from the University of North Florida with a multimedia journalism degree and minors in political science and marketing, with which she hopes to continue storytelling and exploring avenues of multimedia journalism. In Mallory's free time, you’ll either find her taking her cat, Peter, on a walk via stroller, or galavanting around the beaches.