Food accepted for winter break baskets

Published: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 12:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 12:56 p.m.

Alachua County Public Schools will be accepting donations for an annual winter break food drive through Dec. 13.

The program is meant to help families who might rely on the Free/Reduced Meal Program during the school year. Winter break, which lasts two weeks, can be especially stressful for families because of the holidays.

Kelley Kostamo, Partners in Education specialist for Alachua County Public Schools, said the food drive started eight or nine years ago after she noticed something unusual at a local school right after winter break.

Kostamo visited during breakfast time and complimented the principal on the students' behavior: Everyone was eating quietly, she said.

That's because they're starving, the principal told her. The students hadn't had access to schools' free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch over the break.

The food drive started small at first. The first year, Kostamo and some local partners boxed up enough food for 26 families.

Over the years, more contributors joined in, and the program spread to more district schools.

Last year, about 800 families received food baskets.

Now operating as a partnership among Alachua County Public Schools, the Education Foundation of Alachua County, Food4Kids and several local churches and businesses, the winter break food drive has become a fixture.

"Every year, it ramps up a little bit," Kostamo said. "It's really a community-wide effort."

Families can donate food at their children's schools. Some schools collect by homeroom and others collect in the library or another room, Kostamo said.

Families of charter or private school students can donate at Terwilliger Elementary or Lincoln Middle.

After the collection period, community volunteers, safety patrols, Key Clubs and other student clubs will pack the boxes and deliver them back to schools so guidance counselors can distribute the boxes to families.

Organizers want to put the following items in each box: two large cans of sweet potatoes and black beans, stuffing mix, instant potatoes, five cans of fruit, four cans of vegetables, dessert (such as brownie mix), breakfast items (cereal, oatmeal or grits), two large cans of Chef Boyardee or similar products, instant or boxed milk, rice, three boxes of macaroni and cheese, boxed meal with meat (such as Hamburger Helper), spaghetti and sauce, peanut butter and jelly, three cans of soup and either a $10 gift card or a non-refrigerated ham.

A complete food basket costs about $60. The foundation also accepts single food items or cash donations.

Checks can be made out to the Education Foundation of Alachua County, for the Food Basket Project, and mailed to 1725 SE 1st Ave., Gainesville, FL 32641.

To make a donation online, visit the "DONATE" section at and choose the PayPal link.

Erin Jester is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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