Polk County Public Schools has opened a new food pantry in west Lakeland and the food is available to anyone who needs it.

The new food pantry, operated by the district’s preschool programs, is housed at the West Area Adult School, 604 S. Central Ave. It is open every other Friday, except holidays, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. or until supplies run out. The next day the pantry is open is this Friday, Nov. 18.

“As our pantry becomes better stocked, we will open every week,” explained Lori Allen, the school district’s senior director of foundational learning and educational systems.

When people arrive, they are asked to give their name, indicate how many adults and children are in their household, and provide their zip code.

“[There are] no qualifications. You can come every time the doors open …They don’t have to sign anything,” Allen said.

Most of the food is provided by Feeding Tampa Bay, Allen said. It includes cereals, rice, spaghetti, macaroni, canned veggies and fruits, peanut butter and jelly, seasonings, fruit snacks, grits, oatmeal, baby food, generic powdered formula, canned meat, and some frozen meats such as hot dogs and chicken.

“Each time we have been open, we have had to turn away people because we ran out of food to distribute,” Allen said.

The school district serves 942 children through its early childhood Head Start services, a federal program for low-income and at-risk children, Allen said. But there is a long waiting list, she said, adding, “We are fully aware that we are not able to meet the high need in our district.  We also know that we are not just serving children, but their families.” The food bank provides one more service to help those families, she said. 

“Children who are hungry cannot learn. Families in poverty live in survival mode, which does not support making rational decisions for the future. If we can lift that one burden from families, the chances of their children being successful in school increases immensely,” Allen said.

The food pantry also accepts food donations. People who would like to donate can select things off of the pantry’s Amazon wish list or drop-off collected items any weekday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Find more food pantries

The Feeding Tampa Bay website lists 10 food pantry locations in Lakeland and offers a calendar showing distribution dates and times.

The United Way of Central Florida’s website shows several food distribution sites and times in Lakeland, including:

  • Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, 600 W. Peachtree St., every second and last Tuesday at noon.
  • Crystal Lake Elementary, 700 Galvin Drive, every first and third Wednesday at 4:30 p.m
  • Blessings & Hope, 2150 E. Edgewood Drive. Every second and fourth Tuesday 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; check-in is required in the parking lot at 4730 Lakeland Highlands Road, across from Highland Park Church.
  • Pilgrim Rest Free Will Baptist Church, 1052 N Kettles Ave., every first and third Monday at 9:00 a.m.

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Stephanie Claytor

Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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