Food program keeps kids fed during summer – news – ocala.com – ocala, fl gasbuddy near me

This program helps many Marion County children, 31 percent of whom live in poverty. Finding help for those kids, and examining ways to lift them and their families out of poverty, have been the focus points of the Star-Banner’s “The 31 Percent” series, which started at the beginning of the school year and ends today with the publication of this story.

The federal poverty threshold is $24,036 in annual income for a family of four that includes two children. Thirty-one percent of Marion children live below that level, according to the most recent comprehensive Census report, which covers the 2012-16 period.

Most stories in the Star-Banner series have focused on the hurdles that adults face, such as unreliable transportation, low wages, health problems and lack of education. This focus makes sense: After all, if families are to be lifted out of poverty, the incomes and circumstances of parents and caregivers must change for the better.

The summer food program has been in place for years and is regarded as a model of bringing real-world help to people who need it. Experts agree that well-fed children are in a better position to learn and be healthy. And that sets up kids to be better prepared to improve their lives as they grow older, and perhaps break out of poverty.

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Karla Grimsley, executive director of Interfaith Emergency Services, said you can tell when it’s summer. “When the school year ends, we have no way to get the food to the children,” she said. “We definitely see it (visits to the food bank) pick up during the summer when the children are out of school.”

The summer feeding program served 116,641 meals last year: 35,410 breakfasts, 67,477 lunches, 13,184 afternoon snacks and 570 suppers. This summer’s seven-week program will run June 4 to July 27. The district will serve food at 27 school sites and at 25 satellite locations throughout Marion County. (See accompanying list.)

“It’s a privilege to offer a program like this,” school district spokesman Kevin Christian said. “Many times we find the meals students eat at school are the best meals they get during the day. Sometimes (those are) the only meals they receive at all.”

Social service providers would love to duplicate the food program’s success in other areas. In August 2016, the Early Learning Coalition of Marion County convened an Early Learning Summit attended by more than 50 representatives from the school system and social service agencies. Attendees decided to circulate a survey, asking clients about their greatest needs. Surveys were distributed though social media and in person at the coalition offices and other locales.

In August 2017, unsatisfied with the number of survey responses, the summit participants tried again. This time, they collected 201 surveys. And this time, the top three worries were listed as paying for child care, having enough gas money, and working full time.

The group agreed that the number of responses remained too low, and the data gathering process was still too unscientific. The survey couldn’t be used as a basis to make major policy decisions. There is talk of seeking an outside agency to conduct a more thorough survey and analysis process.

Take the answer about gas money. “It (the biggest worry) wasn’t having a car. It was having enough money to put gas in the car,” said Elizabeth Deola, an Early Learning Coalition staffer who led the latest summit discussion, which was held May 11 at the coalition office.

Another summit participant noted that the gas money answer cropped up several times from West Ocala residents. (Survey results were broken down by ZIP code.) But West Ocala is one of the areas best served by the SunTran bus system. So, again, the effort to bolster one area — providing public transportation to people who most need it — doesn’t necessarily eliminate the need in another area.

Then again, that always-on-edge mindset is understandable, another participant noted, because many services have strict all-or-nothing income guidelines. If you earn $1 over the cut line, then you lose services altogether. That means the working poor must always be aware of where they stand on the income ladder. Getting a raise, or taking a better paying job, might actually result in a net loss for their family.

The Florida Children’s Council, an advocacy group, is trying to tackle these “cliffs,” which they see as major barriers to reducing poverty. Those cliffs explain why some of the working poor choose to “park” in place instead of trying to increase their incomes.

In a report issued earlier this month, the council encouraged policy makers to build a system of graduated phase-outs and alignment with work force services. “Re-assessing current policies with a (two-generation) approach provides a framework for reducing government dependency and spending, while improving the outcomes of children and families,” says the report, which was presented during a Florida Chamber of Commerce session in mid-May.

In Marion County, per capita personal income – defined as the personal income of a given area divided by the resident population of the area – increased 2.4 percent (from $33,950 to $34,765) between 2015 and 2016, the federal government announced.

Here’s how the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis defines personal income: "The income received by, or on behalf of, all persons from all sources: from participation as laborers in production, from owning a home or business, from the ownership of financial assets, and from government and business in the form of transfers. It includes income from domestic sources as well as the rest of world. It does not include realized or unrealized capital gains or losses."

According to that same report, average wages and salaries in Marion County — defined as wages and salaries divided by total wage and salary employment — increased 3.6 percent (from $37,732 to $39,086) between 2015 and 2016. The average was up just 1.7 percent in Florida ($47,711 to $48,522.)

The Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership is in Year 1 of its Phase II "Moving Forward" plan. One goal is to create 4,500 new jobs over five years; the CEP already is 46 percent along the way. Another goal is to have wages for those jobs be 15 percent higher than the county average; today the wages are 17 percent higher than the county average.