How nonprofits are targeting childhood hunger in Osceola County

Organizations feeding elementary school students in need

Childhood hunger in Central Florida schools is a continuing problem that affects a child’s development and academics.

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Childhood hunger in Central Florida schools is a continuing problem that affects a child’s development and academics.

In 2016, the nonprofit National Education Association reported Osceola County has one of the highest rates of homeless students in the state, which is why several local nonprofit organizations in the area are stepping up to the plate for students in elementary schools.

“It just breaks my heart to see kids like that and as long as God gives me the strength to go on and to do it, I will do this,” Sharon Sikorski, president of the Presentation Brothers Associates said.

Sikorski wants kids suffering from hunger to know, there is help.

“We provide food for around presently 212 children a week,” Sikorski said. “My husband is in charge of purchasing the food and he will contact the school say, ‘OK, so how many kids?’ or the school will contact us.”

Those more than 200 kids are from five different elementary schools in Osceola County.

Sikosrki said she regularly talks to people and when she explains the plight of the children they find it hard to believe there are hungry children in the U.S.

Along with volunteers, the Presentation Brothers Associates’ mission is to eradicate childhood hunger. But Sikorski, a former victim advocate for Osceola County’s Sheriff’s Office, is not the only one working toward that goal. In other parts of the county, Kathleen Sipio, the executive director of the Celebration Foundation, is working toward that goal as well.

“We serve over 1,000 children a week in the 13 schools and the need is there; we need more help. I know that there are children that are going hungry that we might not have right now,” Sipio said. Through their Learning Without Hunger program, the Celebration Foundation provides bags of food to 13 schools in Osceola County.

“Our children are looking to us for help. They’re hungry and they don’t care what four times four equals if they’re wondering where lunch or dinner is coming from,” Sipio said.

A reality that for Heather Rasmussen, a 4th-grade teacher at Kissimmee Elementary School, says is very real for some of her students.

“These children are really struggling. We are right here in the heart of Disney where people assume this is the happiest place on earth, and in some way it is, but for some of these students they have fled their homes from other countries, they really are suffering,” Rasmussen said.

Each week students in need are given a bag or a backpack filled with enough food to cover the weekend. On Fridays, the bag is discreetly placed in the student’s classroom and at the end of the school day they bring it home and then return the empty bag on Monday.

"This food program is vital for these students it gives them hope, it gives them peace of mind," Rasmussen said. "They wheel these backpacks home full of food to share with their families and you can just see the relief in their faces when they know they don't have to worry about where their next meal is gonna come from."

Both organizations say they're helping fill a void but there's still more that needs to be done.

"Presently we can only provide the food for elementary schools. We don't even have the funds to venture out to do middle and high schools," Sikorski said.

For Sipio, it's up to the adults to go the extra mile.

“We need more help. I do think everyone wants to give, they just don’t know how. So, you can finance a child, you can sponsor a child,” Sipio said. “I feel, as adults, that we’re obligated to help them. They’re our children. They are our future. They will be us one day helping others.”

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About the Author:

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.