Walmart Foundation donates $150,000 for Agape Food Bank SmilePak Program
Greatly Increases the Number of Children who will be Served in Polk County
To help combat child hunger in Polk County during the next school year, the Walmart Foundation has donated $150,000 for the SmilePak program at the Agape Food Bank, which is operated by Catholic Charities of Central Florida. This donation will more than double the number of children who currently receive the SmilePaks, extend the program from one semester to a full school year, and allow for healthier food options.
Initially funded by an anonymous donation from a Polk County parishioner who wished to feed local children, the SmilePak program was developed by the Agape Food Bank earlier this year to deliver food and backpacks to needy schoolchildren and bridge the hunger gap that exists during weekends when free school lunches are not an option.
This January Agape Food Bank began delivering truckloads of food and backpacks to four Polk County schools: Snively Elementary and Wahneta Elementary in Winter Haven, plus Purcell Elementary and Mulberry High School in Mulberry, where high school students also prepared SmilePaks for Mulberry Middle School. By the end of the school semester, almost 400 children were receiving food each weekend.
“Walmart has been a wonderful partner on a weekly basis,” said Brenda C. Reddout, Director of the Western Region for Catholic Charities of Central Florida, Inc. “The Walmart Distribution Center provides food to us every week that we’re able to distribute to our three county service area in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties.” Reddout added that Agape’s 26-foot refrigerated food truck was paid for by an earlier donation from the Walmart Foundation.
Reddout noted that more than 60 percent of children in Polk County schools receive free or reduced-price breakfasts and/or lunches at school – an indication that their families are low-income. “Imagine being in school on Friday and not knowing if you’ll have food until Monday morning,” she said. “Imagine being a child and not being able to eat for two full days.”
Last semester the typical backpack contained a couple of cans of a complete dinner such as beef stew or red beans and rice, shelf-stable milk, fruit juice, cereal and fruit. Every two or three weeks the packs would include a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly. Students would return the empty backpacks on Monday morning, to be refilled and given to them again on Friday afternoon.
Michael Oberle, Agape’s Director, observed that the Walmart Foundation donation will enable the food bank to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in the SmilePaks, to promote better nutrition for the entire family. “This money from Walmart is going to allow us to grow our program in a few ways; we’re going to increase the number of schools, which will increase the number of kids served,” he said. “And now we can have fresh fruit and healthier foods because we’ve got a little more money to choose healthier options versus just the most affordable options.”
The Agape Food Bank is a food distribution warehouse serving 248 not-for-profit member agencies in Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties. It is the only USDA and Feeding America provider for Polk County. Their mission is to help alleviate hunger in the tri-county region by providing food, education, and all available resources to the hungry in their community through member agencies.
Catholic Charities of Central Florida provides vital social services to people in need throughout Central Florida regardless of their religious, social or economic background, to improve lives of individuals, families and the community.