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‘Free Food Fridays’ available for families in need

By Staff | Jun 23, 2010

Lee County agencies are teaming up this summer to make sure families don’t go hungry.
Many local families are struggling to pay bills and buy food, so The Salvation Army, United Way, Harry Chapin Food Bank, Lee County Schools and Community Cooperative Ministries Inc. are working together to make sure they are stocked up this summer with a program called “Free Food Fridays.”
The Salvation Army is sending out mobile feeding units to different communities this summer, including Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres, Fort Myers Beach, Alva, Fort Myers and Pine Island, and local food pantries are opening on Friday for families who qualify for assistance.
Megan Spears, resource management director for The Salvation Army, said that Free Food Fridays are meant to augment the food program offered this summer by the Lee County School District.
Under the district’s program, different schools will open their doors each day to provide free breakfast or lunch to any child under the age of 18, as long as they live in a geographic area where more than 50 percent of students get free or reduced lunch.
Overall, 67 percent of students enrolled in Lee County receive free or reduced lunch because of their family’s level of income.
Although the school district is making sure children are getting meals during summer break, the Free Food Friday program is providing food for whole families.
“The intention is to help the family throughout the weekend,” said Spears.
And the need exists, she said.
Last year in Bonita Springs, some 700 people came looking for assistance during a similar event, and Spears said 400 people are estimated to attend the first Free Food Friday on June 25 in Lehigh Acres.
She added that The Salvation Army changed its own distribution policies after seeing the community need last year. Individuals seeking out food were previously only allowed to pick up food once every 90 days, but that is now decreased to every 30 days.
And the aim of these programs and changes are to help local families.
“During the school year, the majority of the kids are enrolled in the free or reduced lunch programs. Now that school is out, these families have to stretch their grocery dollars even farther,” said Major Tom Louden, corps officer for The Salvation Army, in a prepared statement.
Anyone looking for assistance can get additional information from The Salvation Army, Community Cooperative Ministries Inc. or the United Way’s 211. CCMI is currently the lead local agency for the United Way and it hands out food from its pantry in Cape Coral, said Spears.
For more information on the Lee County School District’s summer feeding program, visit www.leeschools.net.