ST. PETERSBURG – Combining two of its summer initiatives – feeding hungry children and promoting summer reading – the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County (JWB) hosted a “Read & Feed” event for more than 20 children Wed., Aug. 12, at St. Luke’s Methodist Church, 4444 5th Ave. N, St. Petersburg.
St. Luke’s is a pilot site for a new faith-based summer food program that JWB hopes will be replicated next year. Under this new model, neighborhood children come Monday through Friday for free nutritious lunches and enrichment activities such as reading, arts and crafts.
The program is subsidized by the USDA summer food program (Summer BreakSpot) and coordinated through United Methodist Cooperative Ministries. St. Luke’s pastors and congregation volunteer each day, plus transport children to/from the site using the church van when needed.
Since June when the program launched, St. Luke’s has provided more than 400 nourishing meals to neighborhood children, aged Kindergarten through fifth grade, who might otherwise have gone without this summer.
At the Read & Feed event, children participating in St. Luke’s summer food program received an added treat – a new book of their own to take home! This is part of a larger effort by JWB aimed at getting new books into the hands of about 10,000 Pinellas County children over the summer under the Early Readers, Future Leaders grade-level reading campaign.
JWB and its partners became interested in increasing BreakSpot sites and utilization when they learned that only about 10 percent of Pinellas County children who qualify for free or reduced price meals during the school year access BreakSpot sites during the summer.
St. Luke’s was selected as a pilot site because it is located within the only Pinellas County zip code (33713) that appears on Florida’s Top 20 list of highest hunger and food gap needs for children during the summer, according to the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger and Florida Impact.