Hillsborough County makes lunches free to relieve the stress of the pandemic

The free lunches for all Hillsborough County students reduce ongoing problems caused by COVID-19


Photo J. Le

Nicholas DeLise (‘23) grabs his lunch from one of the carts around the school, The grab-and go-lunch consisted of a cheese pizza, apple slices, milk and a Rice Krispie. “I feel like [grab-and-go] lunches are a safer way to get food to the kids who don’t bring lunch. Not much of the food quality has been sacrificed in implementing them,” DeLise said.

Ella Wertz, News and Features Editor

Editor’s note: This story was written for FSPA’s Newspaper Team competition. The FSPA State Convention was held virtually from April 22-23.

In Sept. 2020, Hillsborough County started offering free meals for all students under 18 in response to the pandemic, where many lost their jobs and faced other financial struggles. Funding from the USDA enabled Hillsborough County to provide both free breakfast and lunch to their students. These free meals set the precedent for free breakfast and lunch for the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year.

“Everything [the production of meals] is going fine. We welcome the challenge to feed the entire student body free. It gives us an opportunity to showcase our talents in the kitchen and gives the students a nutritious meal daily,” Marlo Hollingshed, the school’s student nutritionist, said.

In-person students are not the only ones who have access to free lunches. The grab-and-go program for eLearners provides breakfast, lunch and a snack to those who are enrolled in the program. It was first introduced in the fourth quarter of the 2019-2020 school year when school was completely shut down but has since been upgraded to provide hot lunches, not just cold ones.

“We are feeding the eLearners Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday [with] bag lunches and we are also feeding the kids on campus for free,” Hollingshed said.

Before the pandemic, 63 percent of students in Hillsborough County qualified for the free or reduced-lunch program, and so making free lunches available to all reduces stress for those who might not normally qualify.

“Getting free lunch has helped my family a lot because of how sick they have been throughout the pandemic. Both my grandparents and different family members have had COVID and my grandfather actually had to be hospitalized,” Julian Schumacher (‘21) said. “My mom was super stressed and kind of ran out of time to pack lunches and consistently shop for groceries. Overall, I think the free breakfasts and lunches helped my family out financially and in relieving my parent’s stress.”

Additionally, these free meals have removed excess stress for many parents when having to coordinate lunches for their children while balancing work and the impacts off the pandemic.

“When you are a working parent with multiple kids, preparing a healthy lunch for your kids every day can be time-consuming and expensive,” Sarah Schumacher, a Robinson parent, said. “It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to worry about the expense of lunches and that they are getting the fuel they need to learn and grow.”