Program Expands to Meet the Needs of Hungry Children

The first SmilePaks of the new school year will be distributed to students in Polk County on Friday, September 20. SmilePak helps bridge the hunger gap that exists over the weekend when free school lunches are not available by providing backpacks filled with food to needy schoolchildren.  With 68% of children in Polk County receiving free or subsidized lunches, leaving school on Friday may mean not eating again until they return to school on Monday. Believing that no child should go hungry, Agape Food Bank in Lakeland began the SmilePak program in 2012, feeding 400 students weekly at four Polk County schools. Now, one year later, the number of students has tripled to almost 1,200 at twenty area schools.

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The first SmilePaks of the new school year will be distributed to students in Polk County on Friday, September 20. SmilePak helps bridge the hunger gap that exists over the weekend when free school lunches are not available by providing backpacks filled with food to needy schoolchildren.  With 68% of children in Polk County receiving free or subsidized lunches, leaving school on Friday may mean not eating again until they return to school on Monday. Believing that no child should go hungry, Agape Food Bank in Lakeland began the SmilePak program in 2012, feeding 400 students weekly at four Polk County schools. Now, one year later, the number of students has tripled to almost 1,200 at twenty area schools.

How the SmilePak Program Works

  • Food is delivered by the truckload to participating schools, allowing them to maintain an onsite food pantry with food available for emergency situations as well as SmilePaks, which are filled on Friday afternoon and given to students in need.
  • SmilePaks include cereal, milk, juice, fruit, vegetables, peanut butter, and canned entrees   . 
  • New This Year:  Additional food will be provided for the entire family to eat over the weekend.
  • New This Year: Extra food will be given out over the extended Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.
  • New This Year:  Agape will provide 13,000 jars of peanut butter, enough for 13 weeks of deliveries.
  • SmilePak is a program of the Agape Food Bank and would not be possible without the generous support of individual donors and community partners such as:  Mosaic Company Foundation, Wells Fargo Bank, Bank of America, and the Walmart Foundation. 

ADDITIONAL AGAPE FOOD BANK NEWS

New Leadership Team at Agape Food Bank Preparing to Meet Current and Future Needs

Catholic Charities of Central Florida recently welcomed Kim Long and Todd Lethers to the team at the Agape Food Bank in Lakeland.  Long and Leathers will work together to ensure Agape Food Bank continues to offer the same quality service while becoming better prepared to meet future needs.

Long begins her duties as Agape Food Bank Director on September 9. She is responsible for creating business and community partnerships to help achieve the goals of the Agape Food Bank, while increasing awareness of the food bank and the important issues of hunger and poverty; as well as managing fundraising efforts for the program. Long comes to Agape with 16 years of management experience in the Florida tourism industry and has an extensive knowledge of the local community.

“It is an exciting and rewarding opportunity to join Catholic Charities of Central Florida”, says Long. “I consider it a privilege to be in a position to use my professional expertise combined with a true passion for service to aid in addressing food hardships so heartbreakingly prevalent across our community.”

As Senior Manager of Operations, Lethers will be responsible for the daily running of the food bank, including: overseeing staff, volunteers, and partner agencies, analyzing and responding to area need, and assisting to develop and enhance food bank programs. Lethers bring 16 of years of administrative experience to his position at Agape.

“These restructured positions will enable Agape to grow and better meet the needs of the hungry in our tri-county area”, explains Brenda Reddout, the Western Region Director at Catholic Charities of Central Florida. “We will be equipped to expand our existing services and develop new programs to serve those in need.”

In Polk County, 17.3% of the population suffers from food insecurity; nearly 30% of them are children. Agape is committed to meeting this great need and alleviating hunger in our community.

Agape Food Bank Turns 30

Agape Food Bank opened in Lakeland in April, 1983 providing food to 47 partner agencies and churches. Thirty years later, that number has grown to 250 partnering agencies delivering over 7 million pounds of food in the last year. Over their long history in Polk County, Agape has seen the changing needs of the area and has adapted to serve where most needed. Programs have included outreach to migrant farm workers, partnering with halfway homes and women’s shelters, and running summer feeding programs.

Today Agape Food Bank runs the SmilePak weekend meal program for students as well as monthly mobile pantries to remote areas with high need. This fall Agape’s leadership will convene a Hunger Council made up of community leaders to discuss hunger in Polk County and develop solutions. Agape has a long legacy of service in Polk County and is committed to meeting the challenges of the future with the same compassionate care.

Agape Food Bank, a program of Catholic Charities of Central Florida, was established in 1983 and celebrates 30 years of feeding the hungry in Polk, Highlands, and Hardee counties this year. They are the only USDA and Feeding America provider for Polk County. Catholic Charities of Central Florida is the largest non-profit social service organization in Central Florida. Their mission is to provide vital social services for people in need regardless of their religious, social, or economic background, to improve lives of individuals, families and the community. These social services include emergency financial assistance, food, medical care, transitional housing, and affordable housing programs.