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article imageCoronavirus shutdown: Schools scramble to feed students

By Karen Graham     Mar 15, 2020 in Health
With school closures stemming from the novel coronavirus escalating, school leaders across the country must wrestle with another dilemma: if schools shut down, their students may not have access to meals.
No one wants to see children going hungry simply because schools have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, yet advocates worry that as more schools close their doors, more children who rely on the free or discounted meals they eat at school will go hungry.
“These meals are a very big deal,” said Joel Berg, chief executive officer of Hunger Free America, a New York-based nonprofit, according to Education Week. “Almost 30 million kids a day rely on government-subsidized school meals. If schools are shut down for weeks at a time, we’re going to have a serious child hunger crisis.”
Even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that oversees the nation’s school meal programs, has issued guidelines instructing schools on how to feed students during unanticipated school closures, that does not mean school districts have contingency plans set up to get meals to students amid a public health crisis.
Access to food during COVID-19 outbreak
To make it easier for states to operate their school meals programs during the coronavirus outbreak, the USDA is accepting waiver requests - but this is not a "blanket" waiver. Each state must apply.
Usually, the USDA requires that students getting free or reduced-price lunches must consume the lunches at the site where they get them, like a school cafeteria. Under new guidance from the USDA, students are allowed to get their meals from a designated site, such as their local school or another off-campus location, then take it home.
In hard-hit Washington state, education officials said they’ve had to grapple with keeping meals flowing to students amid closures. In Bothell, Wash., the Northshore School District, closed all of its schools last Thursday for up to 14 days. The district began providing lunches to students, offering “grab and go” meals at 17 school sites.
Lunch at DC Public Schools on 10/9/12: Local Beef Burger on a Whole Wheat Bun  Roasted Brussel Sprou...
Lunch at DC Public Schools on 10/9/12: Local Beef Burger on a Whole Wheat Bun, Roasted Brussel Sprouts, Baked Potato Fries, Cantaloupe Wedge & Milk.
DC Central Kitchen (CC BY 2.0)
In Richmond, Virginia, where one out of every four residents lives in poverty, school officials have set up meal distribution centers, so students still have access to meals, according to WTVR.com.
Kamras said families can pick up multiple meals at any of the 17 sites - regardless of their home school - so that they don't have to come back every day.
"We recognize that some families may have difficulty getting to these centers,” Kamras wrote in a letter to parents. “As a result, we are working on a limited neighborhood distribution strategy, but need a bit more time to work through the details."
The point is this - School districts, working with municipal officials have been working together to feed the country's children during this epidemic, and because schools are taking on the responsibility of providing meals - over and above providing education - is an amazing feat.
More about coronavirus, School closures, Free meals, contingency plan, Students
 
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