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Schools providing ‘Grab & Go’ meals for students

By Staff | Mar 24, 2020

It’s no secret that many families rely on the Lee County School District to provide healthy meals to their children.

Meals are considered so important that the district made breakfast and lunch free for all students to eliminate the stigma of those who receive the meals.

On Monday, 24 Lee County schools and 14 other community sites provided breakfasts and lunches for school children, and will continue to do so at least until April 15 when schools are tentatively set to reopen.

Cars lined up Monday morning at Tropic Isles Elementary School, with parents driving their kids to the school to gets their “Grab & Go” meals, which were prepared by the dedicated “lunch ladies” who prepped all week last week while kids were on break, and bagged up hundreds of meals at the crack of dawn.

Breanna Gustafson, marketing supervisor for food and nutrition services, said this was an opportunity for families to get “Grab & Go” meals to get through the day as long as school is closed.

“There is a need for our students to eat, and for some students it’s the only meals they get. So, we know how important it is to feed them,” Gustafson said.

Lauren Couchois, director of food and nutrition services, said they are aware the kids get their most nutritious meals at school, so it’s important to get these meals to them even during an unexpected closure.

“It’s important to families that aren’t working right now or won’t know when they are returning to work, that they have healthy meals to give their kids,” Couchois said.

Also at the school was Tropic Isles Principal Rob Mazzoli, who came to direct traffic and meet the students and parents he hasn’t seen in a while.

He had packets of lesson plans for the kids and parents so they could continue to learn while at home.

“It’s heartwarming to see the interaction between the kids and teachers because they miss each other,” Mazzoli said. “We passed out Chromebooks last week and the kids were so excited to be back at school even if it was for five minutes.”

Slowly, the parents came with their kids, with lines not exceedingly long as workers handed out the meals to multiple vehicles at a time to speed things up.

Michele Cousineu, brought her three kids, who she has to feed at school so she can afford to feed her sisters.

“This helps a lot. We’re on a tight budget. When they start closing everything else, I work at the post office. If they close that down, I don’t know what I’ll do,” Cousineu said, who plans to come as often as she can. “I can’t get supplies or a loaf of bread, which is ridiculous.”

About 400 students were expected to be fed through this program at Tropic Isles and more than 20,000 countywide per day.

“Families are going to the grocery store and the bread and fresh foods are gone. This is a chance for the kids to get healthy, nutritious food while schools are closed,” said Rob Spicker, assistant director of media relations with the school district. “We tend to live in our own bubble and can’t believe there are families that are hungry, but there are.”

About 70 percent of students take advantage for the free lunch program in Lee County, while 30 percent do so for breakfast. Nearly 95,000 students go to Lee County schools.