Local families now have additional locations to get meals for their school-age children.
Orange County Public Schools recently announced the addition of seven new schools to the Grab-and-Go program locations list, including Windermere High School and Ocoee Middle School.
The program continues to provide meals for families who rely on the regular breakfasts and lunches during the school year. The meals are available for children 18 and younger and are being funded through the Florida Department of Agriculture.
“It’s my job to really make sure that we provide meals to every child to make sure that they can learn,” said Lora Gilbert, senior director for the Food and Nutrition Services Program for OCPS. “We’re the equalizer, I would say, so no matter what ZIP code a child wakes up in, they have able access to nutrition so that they can learn.”
The program started March 23 with 50 schools and operates like a drive-thru service. District staff hand out packages to children who walk or ride their bicycles to the schools, as well as parents who line up in the car loop. The meals are available between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday in the car loop of each school site.
To decide which schools would initially be Grab-and-Go sites, Gilbert said OCPS staff first looked at schools where at least 50% of the students were eligible for free and reduced meals. Staff then looked at whether every area was accounted for and made a recommendation to the area superintendents. Other factors like how busy the roads were and the layout of nearby streets all played a role in the decisions.
Gilbert said the new schools — such as Windermere High School and Ocoee Middle School — were added in response to the demand and feedback from families. Even a local church — HighPoint Church, 476 Ocoee Commerce Parkway in Ocoee — was made into a Grab-and-Go location because of a nearby school sitting on a busy road.
The new additions and some consolidation of locations has brought the total number of school sites to 56, Gilbert said.
“This is a day-by-day thing,” Gilbert said. “It’s evolving so rapidly. At the start of this, 68% of our students were eligible for free and reduced (meals). I can’t even imagine what that’s up to now. We’ll try to be just as responsive as we can to what children need.”
This Friday, the Grab-and-Go sites will be serving breakfast and lunch for Saturday and Sunday, as well. 4 Rivers Smokehouse also started serving food this week at four local high schools, including Dr. Phillips High School.