Hunger a real concern in St. Lucie schools; 75 percent of students rely on school meals

In St. Lucie Schools, 75% of students rely on school meals. (WPEC)

A staggering number of students in the St. Lucie School District rely on free or reduced school meals.

Feeding America’s 2019 Map the Meal Gap study showed 86,690 people on the Treasure Coast don’t always know where their next meal will come from. That includes 25,130 children. St. Lucie County is one of two South Florida counties with the highest rates of food insecurity.

"It's just all about her," said Summer Hudgens, of Port St. Lucie, as she describes the driving force. Hudgens knows what it is like to go without food, which is why she moved to St. Lucie County where students in need are provided a free meal. "It's all about my kid. Ever since I became a parent."

Seventy-five percent of students in the county rely on free or reduced school meals. In fact, several schools participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which is a non-pricing meal service option for schools in low-income areas. These schools serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications.

"If I fed one child or 40,000 children, I've made a difference and that's so important to me because I don't want any child to ever go hungry," said Deborah Wuest, Director of Child Nutrition Services with the St. Lucie County.

Wuest said hunger has an enormous impact on a student's ability to learn.

"They're not going to be paying attention or learning because all they are thinking about is that I am really hungry. I need something to eat."

School officials tell CBS12 News that the district is working to roll out a program that would provide weekend meals to students who qualify for the assistance.