John Bailey and his small crew at Englewood SKY Academy gave out more free meals Tuesday than they did Monday.

They expect the number to keep ticking up.

Bailey, the principal at Englewood SKY, a charter school that’s affiliated with the South County YMCA, expects the numbers to grow as more parents realize there are no strings attached to the meals. SKY Academy just wants students fed during the coronavirus crisis.

Schools in Charlotte, Sarasota and DeSoto counties scrambled last week to come up with plans to feed children who are locked out of schools because of the coronavirus. Thousands of children in the area are on school districts’ free and reduced price lunch and breakfast programs, and even more are in need as parents can no longer go to work because of the virus.

There were a few glitches along the way.

Last week, Bailey and other administrators heard that Englewood students didn’t have a local free-meal distribution location through the Sarasota County School District. Families with students at SKY Englewood and Englewood Elementary were expected to go to Garden Elementary School in Venice or North Port High School or Atwater Elementary School in North Port.

Bailey and Englewood Elementary School principal Mark Grossenbacher started discussing the situation. They contacted some local business owners, and came up with a plan.

“I told him we could do curbside feeding here,” Bailey said. “It’s like we activated our summer lunch program early. We are working together to feed the community. Our AMP meal program is through the Department of Health.”

Bailey and his crew gave out 34 meal Monday and 76 meals in 31 minutes on Tuesday.


Similarly, schools in Punta Gorda, North Port, Port Charlotte, Englewood and Venice began handing out meals for kids who need them. Parents can drive up to the schools during designated times and don’t even need to get out of their cars.

They do, however, need to bring their children with them for the pickup.

At Myakka River Elementary as parents picked up food, students rolled down the car window to wave to principal Grace Shepard.

“I’m giving them air hugs and waving to them,” she said. “We miss our students. We know they are going to work hard and we want them to be mighty.”


While SKY gives a free lunch and breakfast for any student (18 and under), a few blocks away on West Dearborn Street, Mango Bistro is giving a healthy lunch to parents (19 and older with children) who are in need.

Mango Bistro owners Marie Laforge and Ricardo Ruggiero brainstormed on how to help parents while the inside of the restaurant is partially closed during the governor’s statewide mandatory order. The couple gave flyers to Bailey to give to parents which are returned to the restaurant for a to-go meal.

“We have organic produce, giant apples and melons. We want to provide a good meal to parents,” Marie said. “The meal is large enough that it can really be made into two. The parents have been extremely thankful. They have been tipping our servers. They know we aren’t open and can only do curbside and deliveries.”

The couple understands local crisis. During the red tide outbreak and after hurricanes, they also pitched in to help the community. They also do summer-time deliveries to help local businesses.

“This is Marie’s brainchild,” Ricardo said. “I’m from Brazil and Marie is from France. We have family that’s all under quarantine in those countries. We know this is a world-wide problem and not just here. So we are doing our part to help.

“We just wish more people would take it seriously because it really is impacting so many people. There’s so much uncertainty of what will happen in a month.”


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