Published: Apr 08, 2014 5:36 PM EDT
Updated: Apr 08, 2014 5:43 PM EDT

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. - Summer is a critical time in southwest Florida when it comes to feeding families in need.

Hunger is at its worst during the warmer months. Just ahead of those months, WINK News partner The Charlotte Sun hosted a round table discussion on hunger.

As growing season ends, seasonal residents head north and schools let out for the summer, southwest Florida is bracing for an influx of need.

Local food banks say they've seen the problem getting worse in the past several years.

"(One factor has been) the economy, and reductions in funding for state programs and federal programs, like food stamp programs have been cut," said Mac Martin, a board member for the All Faiths Food Bank.

Food banks, like All Faiths and Harry Chapin, are launching springtime collection campaigns.

"One way folks can help is if they're going home for the winter, call the food bank -- either All Faiths Food Bank, or Harry Chapin Food Bank or whatever your local food pantry is, and tell them that you've got some extra canned food that you're willing to donate," Martin said.

Public schools also recognize the need to help the growing number of families who depend on free or reduced-price meals for their kids.

According to Terri Whitacre, the director of food and nutrition services for Charlotte County Schools, approximately two out of five students took advantage of need-based meal programs. Today, Whitacre said that number has risen to two out of three.

Charlotte County is one of many Florida school districts participating in summer meal programs.

"If you don't get what you need early in life, then you're stunted," said Will McWhirter, a nutrition specialist with Charlotte County Schools. "It's catch-up from there, which is usually impossible."

Any students, ages 5-18, can show up at a designated location during the summer and get a free meal.

"It's essential. I mean, we have to do it," McWhirter said. "Why would'nt we do it?"

For more information on summer meal programs for students, contact your local school district, or dial 211.