As I reflect on this year, it is evident the pandemic shone a light on hunger in America and led to innovation and creativity to ensure no kid goes hungry.
Across Florida, nonprofit organizations and school districts displayed ingenuity, putting their food pantries on wheels, packaging and delivering meals for families at school bus stops and transforming school parking lots into meal distribution drive-thrus.
These remarkable efforts were led by individuals from all walks of life who went above and beyond to ensure kids got the healthy meals they need and deserve.
It was the hard work of Florida state legislators like Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Miami) and Representative Dana Trabulsy (R-St. Lucie), who worked tirelessly to address childhood hunger during the 2022 legislative session. They were child hunger heroes this session as they championed measures to expand access to school breakfast across the state.
Although the legislation did not pass, their leadership in Tallahassee stimulated important conversations about child hunger in Florida, opening the door to many opportunities in the future to address food insecurity among children in our state.
It was the many Florida school district leaders who took action to ensure students in their districts could continue to receive the free meals they rely on by adopting the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). This effective program streamlines schools’ meal service, promotes equity by eliminating out-of-pocket costs for families and removes the stigma often associated with participating in school meals.
Because kids rely on school breakfast and lunch for much of their daily nutrition, expanding and improving school meal programs to reach more children is a natural and effective place to make meaningful strides in the fight against hunger.
Our partnerships with community-based organizations is another critical piece of the puzzle. We saw firsthand just how creative and relentless these local groups are when it comes to addressing hunger in their communities.
The St. Pete Free Clinic in Tampa nearly tripled its Fresh Sprouts preschool program by expanding from three to 11 schools. Now, the nonprofit delivers bags of food containing fun and nutritious surprises for the whole family every Friday.
In Naples, Crohn’s Charity Service Foundation created Miss Blueberry, a solar-paneled, refrigerated food truck that delivers meals straight to communities in need. With inflation rates soaring to an all-time high this year and gas prices not far behind, Miss Blueberry was a timely solution.
In Ormond Beach, Food Brings Hope tripled the number of families it reached with its food pantry and food bag distribution and now serves 150 families.
These are just a few examples of the impact school districts and local organizations can make in their communities. It is an inspiration to partner with them, and No Kid Hungry was proud to provide more than $2.4 million in grants this year to help create and expand programs that help ensure every child in Florida gets three nutritious meals a day.
Innovation is king in these challenging times, and No Kid Hungry Florida tried some new things of our own. We launched our first inaugural Rural Learning Cohort, working with two school districts and two community-based organizations to create a year-long partnership. Our relationship supported peer-to-peer collaboration and innovation to help address the distinct challenges and opportunities that arise when feeding kids in rural communities.
Rural communities face a variety of obstacles including transportation, distance and the ability to access resources. Despite these barriers, they have shown remarkable resilience and resourcefulness through their programs. This cohort is an opportunity to build on that success, and I am excited to see its positive impact.
The new year is right around the corner and with all of the gains made to address hunger in 2022, we can’t go back to the ways things were before. We must continue to build on this progress through smart policy change, strategic investments, continued innovation and partnerships to ensure every child in Florida has the nutrition they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.