From left, Poinciana School cafeteria manager Marlyn Anne Brown Menite, principal Larry Schmiegel and cafeteria worker Priscilla Sullivan prepare backpacks to send food home to needy students.

Keys Energy Services recently donated 2,400 backpacks to the Monroe County School District. The backpacks will be used countywide to help tackle the issue of food insecurity with students and their families.

“These are bags we would normally have given out at community events,” said Keys Energy spokesperson Julio Torrado. “Since many of these events were canceled due to the pandemic, we thought this was a great way to use them. Food insecurity in our community should be something we are all concerned about,” he said.

Due to the pandemic, the USDA recently extended its waiver program that provides for free meals to students, through the end of the 2020-21 school year. The waiver program also allows for more flexibility in when meals are provided, to make sure students have enough food during times they may not be in school. 

The backpacks donated by Keys Energy Services will be used to help provide breakfasts and lunches to all students who need them to help bridge the gap over the Thanksgiving recess as well as on weekends and other holiday breaks. 

Teachers, counselors, social workers and principals were all asked to keep an eye out for students who show signs of food insecurity. More than 400 Keys students deal with food insecurity every day, recent studies have shown. Through the support of Keys Energy, in partnership with the school district, the City of Key West and other organizations, meals will be distributed to students to help bridge the gap when they are outside of school.

“We will be sending food home with these students over Thanksgiving break,” said Superintendent Theresa Axford. “Starting the week before, over several days, each student will bring home backpacks with the equivalent of 18 meals each to make sure they have something to eat for the entire break period.

“Thank you to Keys Energy Services for this generous donation. The USDA waiver gave us the ability to provide food, but we had nothing for the kids to carry the food home in and they really came through for us,” she added.

Parents of students who are facing food insecurity can contact their child’s individual school to ensure they will be included in this program.

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