The Gulfport Public Library is offering more than books, videos, audiotapes and computers to kids this summer. Think free food.
And, they don’t even need a library card to participate in what is being called the Summer Break Spot.
Monday through Friday from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Frances Shepherd, food specialist from Pinellas County Schools, is in the library’s Friends Room and she hands out lunches and snacks, said Cailey Klasson, youth services librarian.
Food items include sandwiches like peanut butter and jelly, juices, milk, cheese sticks and crackers and kids dine in the Friends Room, which is located adjacent to the library lobby.
“Anyone from anywhere can come as long as they are under 18 years of age,” said Klasson. “They don’t have to sign up or register. They don’t need an ID. They don’t have to be from Gulfport. Just show up and we’ll give you a lunch or snack.”
Shepherd takes care of all of the government paperwork and ensures the food is properly chilled. The program most frequently “serves kids from the neighborhood,” said Shepherd.
This is the first summer the federally funded program has been offered at the library in partnership with Pinellas County Schools, the entity that organizes and monitors local distribution. From seven to 13 children are served lunches each day, said Klasson. “Some days, we have more. Word is starting to spread.”
According to their website, the United States Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program “ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session.” During the summer of 2017, the program “plans to serve more than 200 million free meals at approved sites.”
During the summer, it’s common for “kids to hang out at the library all day because it’s a safe place for them to come and spend time. We have wifi so they’re just using their phone, a computer or reading a book. They often don’t bring food with them so we thought this would be a good program to implement over the summer,” said Klasson.
David Mather, the director of the library and information technologies for the city of Gulfport, and Klasson had been talking about ways to provide food because “there have been times when we’ve been asked for snacks from children. There was a time when we provided food through our friends group,” said Klasson.
Mather worked with staff from Pinellas County Schools to get the program started on Wednesday, May 31 and it runs through Friday, July 28 just before school starts, said Klasson.
When staff from the school district offered the library the opportunity to participate, “we thought it would be a great partnership,” said Shepherd. “It’s been popular and we plan to continue it for next year.”
The library is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To find out more information about the program at the library, call 727-893-1074.
To obtain other street address locations where the program is being offered in Pinellas County by Zip Code, text “FOODFL” to 877-877.