Pinellas County Lunch Pals program gives kids more to look forward to at school

Hundreds of Pinellas County students are getting a bonus with their school lunch. Mentors are helping them branch out socially and academically through the Lunch Pals Program through the school system. 

Isaiah Jenkins and Ja'vion Dunbar look forward to their school lunch dates with Ron Diner at Mount Vernon Elementary in St. Petersburg. 

"I really appreciate it and I just love having lunch with them," Dunbar said. "The best thing when he comes… we play games and then he brings us lunch." 

The program pairs an adult mentor with students.

"We want to convey to them that they're good people, and that, if you do everything right, they can be successful in life," Ron Diner, Lunch Pals Mentor said. 

Diner, of Raymond James Financial, has been a lunch pal for years. He's been instrumental in the partnership with Pinellas County schools and he's encouraged other businesses to get involved over the years. 

"When we've surveyed the kids, not only the kids, but I'm talking about the adults that have participated, the comments are always the same," said Diner. "People feel like they're getting more out of it than they're actually giving, that they all come away feeling really great."

Administrators say the program helps some students who may have low self-esteem. 

"It gives every kid an opportunity to meet somebody who isn't part of the school, but comes to school and is able to give them that extra boost of confidence and enjoy just a conversation with the kid," said Robert Ovalle, Mt. Vernon Elementary School Principal. "It establishes a relationship. Every kid needs a good relationship with somebody." 

The relationships are helping children to grow socially and academically. 

"I think I'm learning to help people and to have fun because this is what I'm doing right now. I'm having fun," Jenkins said. 

Ovalle says the kids are excited to come to school on the days when their pals join them for lunch. 

The program is much more than just lunch.  Anyone interested in being a lunch pal should visit