The food bank offers three programs for local students to stay fed throughout any given week.
The United Food Bank of Plant City believes one of the best ways to keep students engaged in the classroom is to keep them fed.
That’s why the UFB currently offers three programs for students of any age in elementary school through college to take home bags full of food and, in some cases, toiletries to last them through a week or a weekend as needed. The programs cover students in seven local K-12 schools and anyone enrolled at Hillsborough Community College.
Two of the programs provide students with food on a weekly basis, but they’re very different.
Students at HCC, through the College Hunger program, can pick up a bag once per week containing food and toiletries so long as they either present their ID at the UFB or get a voucher from the office of the Dean of Student Affairs. UFB director Mary Heysek said there’s a misconception among people that college students have money to buy food whenever they need it, so the food bank is there so they don’t have to choose between eating or studying.
“They all think that if you’re going to college, you have enough money to buy food. It’s just a thing that people think. But it’s not true,” Heysek said. “They’ll drop a class because they’re trying to afford which bills to pay, or they won’t buy supplies.”
Heysek said the food bank gives out roughly 60 bags to HCC students each month and that the college has been “very supportive” of the program. Many HCC students even volunteer their own time to help out at the food bank.
The other weekly program is for K-12 students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. Unlike at HCC, where a student can stop in once during any week to pick up a bag, this program covers time such as Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, spring break and summer vacation. More than 600 bags with items such as bread, peanut butter and jelly, soup, macaroni and cheese and more were given out to Plant City-area students over Thanksgiving break, for example.
Then there’s the weekend program for K-12 students, which gets schools’ social workers involved. The social workers identify kids who don’t get to eat much (if at all) over the weekend and coordinates with the UFB to put together a bag with two servings of breakfast and lunch (for Saturday and Sunday) with some snacks for each child in need.
“We don’t need to broadcast that these people need help with food, so it’s meant to fit in a bag or backpack,” UFB operations manager Gayle Langenhan Tindle said. “We’re not gonna have extremely heavy or bulky items.”
Generally speaking, the UFB gives out roughly 300 bags for each weekend during the school year. The program was launched two years ago at Plant City High School and Heysek said that test run showed the program is not being abused.
“You can tell that it’s not taken advantage of because Plant City High School has 2,000 kids and they have asked for help for 50 of them, so that’s not very many kids,” Heysek said.
The K-12 programs are currently offered at PCHS, Marshall Middle, Burney Elementary, Wilson Elementary, Trapnell Elementary, Cork Elementary and Springhead Elementary. More schools are on the waiting list and could be added as early as the 2020-21 school year. According to the food bank’s annual 2018-19 report, it distributes 7,436 weekly bags to K-12 students each year.
Though the UFB is always grateful for food donations, Heysek said monetary donations could be more effective when funding these programs. That gives the UFB more control over what it can put in the bags by giving it purchasing ability, which goes a long way considering it’s able to buy food and other goods for “even less than BOGO” from certain companies. Each weekend bag costs the UFB about $8, while the K-12 weekly bag costs it $27 and the HCC College Hunger bag costs $50 to put together.
The food bank is located at 702 E. Alsobrook St. Suite H. Call 813-764-0625 or visit ufbpc.org for more information.