Schools' food drive far exceeds expectations


Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 5:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 5:12 p.m.

As Wendy Smith delivered boxes of food to her students' families this week, she marveled at how many families are getting an extra hand this holiday season.

The school counselor at Williams Elementary was able to reach 50 of the school's families through Alachua County Public Schools' annual food drive, which surpassed expectations this year.

"It's unbelievable," Smith said. "It's at least quadruple what we've done in the past."

The district worked with the Education Foundation of Alachua County to collect donations for about a month. Now, 816 families across the county are receiving much-needed food as students head home for the holiday break, which starts today and runs through Jan. 2.

This year's goal was to help 600 families. Last year, the district was able to send home 540 food baskets for the two-week break.

Kelley Kostamo, the partnership specialist for the school district, said she received an overwhelming response to her call for donations at local schools, business partners and churches.

"I just feel so grateful that so many people pitched in and helped," she said. "I think we just live in such a great community."

Kostamo said she has seen support for the food drive grow in recent years, which mirrors the increase in need.

During the past few years, the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch has increased. More than half of Alachua County's 27,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

School counselors work to identify families who will benefit the most from the donations.

Smith, who said she drives her van around to deliver food baskets because many parents don't have transportation, said she is always greeted with gratitude.

"They're just so appreciative and thankful," she said. "This will make their Christmas a little bit easier."

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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