East Pasco Rotaries make sure kids get summer lunches
Shelly Villa, from right, Gary Williams of Land O' Lakes Rotary Club, Raquel Villa, Chloe Robinson, and Naty Leon, pass bags out the door to the various organizations who will deliver them to the students.
BY GARY S. HATRICK Tribune correspondent
Published: June 5, 2013
ZEPHYRHILLS - Though they are on summer recess from school, more than 550 east Pasco children will still get a good lunch because of a project organized by eight east Pasco Rotary clubs. The clubs, which refer to themselves as the Rotary East Side Eight, provide food bags with easily-prepared lunches to help provide the meals for children in Pasco schools. More than 80 percent of school children in Pasco are on free and reduced lunches. Mike Mira, assistant governor for Rotary District 6950, Area 6, said during summer vacation some of the children do not get a nutritious lunch. The East Side Eight Summer Food Drive is an annual project by the eight Rotary Clubs. Club members worked together Saturday at the Rotary Building in Zephyrhills to pack 558 food bags filled with canned foods and microwavable lunches.
Mira started the summer food drive when he was president of the Rotary Club of Zephyrhills four years ago. "I wanted to get a project together with the eight clubs and everyone had a different idea. We wanted something where all of us did the same things," Mira recalled. He came up with the idea after talking with school personnel and found out that, at the time, 65 percent of the students were on free and reduced lunches. "I was shocked by that number now it's between 80 and 85 percent," he said. "That's unbelievable." Mira said that everyone does Christmas bags but the summer was a needy time as well. The eight clubs agreed to the idea and it has become a successful cooperative drive. The students who receive the lunches are selected by the schools that identify families in need. Money for the bags that cost about $15 each comes from donations from Rotarians and others who wish to help. Over the past four years, about 5,000 bags have been distributed. The Rotary Club of Zephyrhills got a boost this year from the Florida Medical Clinic Foundation of Caring that approved a $5,000 grant to the club to help with the club's Z-Kids programs. Z-Kids is a name given to the children's programs involving food, hygiene products and education. Some of the money was allocated to the summer food drive. "I think it's important because it fills a need that, to my knowledge, no one else fills at this time. A lot of these kids won't get a standard lunch that they do during the school year," said Zephyrhills Rotary Club president Rebecca Gaddis. The eight clubs that participate are the two Rotary Clubs of Zephyrhills, Dade City, and Wesley Chapel and the Rotary Clubs of Land O' Lakes and San Antonio.