Before the coronavirus pandemic, millions of children across the U.S. relied on free or reduced-cost school lunches to supplement their nutritional intake. Indeed, for many food-insecure children, their school lunch was the only nutritious meal of the day.
When the pandemic fully hit and schools began closing, advocates were concerned about how those children would get their free meals. Fortunately, many school districts and, in some cases, the private sector, have stepped in to make sure that those kids still get their school lunches.
In Hillsborough County, Florida, which includes Tampa and the surrounding suburbs, the county school district set up sites all across the area where parents could come pick up food. Specifically, all a parent had to do was ask and they'd get a pound of lunch meat, a loaf of bread, 10 cartons of milk, as well as juice, cereal, and other types of things that kids would typically get in a school cafeteria.
However, last week, officials within the district began to suspect that unscrupulous people were taking advantage of the system by taking food they weren't entitled to and then selling it online.
District spokeswoman Tanya Arja says that the district noticed a significant uptick in the amount of food being distributed. Some sites were even running out of food.
Then people started showing up at distribution sites seemingly making no attempt to hide what they were up to. Specifically, some showed up with district food, picked up at other sites, already in their cars.
"So it was evident they visited multiple sites and received multiple bags of food," Arja said.
Then, authorities started seeing screenshots of Facebook posts sent to them by concerned citizens. These posts showed loaves of bread and cartons of milk that the user had presumably picked up from district distribution sites, and offering it for sale.
At least one post advertised the food as "free," but then users who clicked were asked to "make an offer."
"It's a shame that a few of our community members would go to multiple sites, take food away from children and seek to build their financial portfolio on children who will not have food today," Superintendent Addison Davis said in a statement.
The district is now tightening up the requirements to get the free food. Specifically, anyone wanting the food must first provide their child's name and birth date or their student ID number when picking up their food.