When the coronavirus pandemic novel caused school districts across the country to close in March, questions grew about whether unsafe food children who depend on school food to survive still have access to them. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, initially refused to close the school after the COVID-19 outbreak, citing the fact that so many students rely on breakfast and lunch at school for sustenance.
With this concern, last month COVID-19 of the Child Nutrition Response Act entered into force, which stipulates national neglect to help school districts provide nutritious food for students while limiting their exposure to new corona viruses. Even though the class may only be in an online session today, the district continues to feed students, even in smaller amounts than they did when the school opened. And, in some cases, they feed the wider community.
The Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) – with 700,000 students, the second largest in the country – already has it served about 5 million meals for children and adults alike 63 take-and-go food centers established since closing school March 16. New York City Public Schools, the largest district in the US, has 400 take-and-go sites, and April 3 news that he has expanded his school. free food to include all New Yorkers, student or adult.
LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner announced at a recent press conference that his district serves more food every day than any country’s food bank; it distributed more than 432,000 meals on March 31 alone. The district also provides food for 13 temporary shelters in Los Angeles.
As a crisis the coronavirus has caused an unprecedented 10 million Americans file unemployment claims in the second half of March and predictions that the unemployment rate can reach 32 percent, families struggle to buy food, rent, and other needs. But with help from community partners and charitable organizations, the school district emerged as a lifeline for students in need – also the number of adults who suddenly became unemployed or unemployed.
“Many of the families we serve only struggle to make ends meet,” Beutner told Civil Eats. “They are dishwashers, bus drivers, day laborers, who, unfortunately, in this disaster, were the first people to be laid off. We decided that we would serve all who came and needed help, without question.”
With help from the Red Cross, World Central Kitchen (WCK), Snap, Inc., and the Teamsters union, LAUSD operates take-and-go food centers throughout the city from 7am to 11am working days (and 8am to 11am during spring break, which starts April 6). Customers receive two meals each and are not required to prove they attend LAUSD or have children do it to get food. Dole Packaged Foods has donated fruit bowls and “refrigerator packages” for the effort, while Chiquita has donated 44,000 fresh bananas. Toy companies Mattel and the charity Baby2Baby also donate toys, art supplies, blankets, diapers, baby tissues and baby food to these sites.
On average, two-thirds of people who receive food at LAUSD are students, and one-third are adults, according to Beutner.
“We know this is not a normal time, so we serve all who need it,” he said. “The federal government says we cannot do it, but we say we will do it. We have to find out because there are adults in need, and we know we are a safety net. “
Feed the Students Most in Need and Their Families
Eighty percent of LAUSD students come from low-income households, and district philanthropic partners make it possible to serve food to children and adults just as schools remain closed during coronavirus outbreaks. On March 19, monitors announced the creation of “LA Students Need Most“Fundraising efforts, which pay for food, snacks, supplies, and access to technology for vulnerable young people in this district.
Meanwhile, the rideshare company, Uber, provides families in need of a ride to the LAUSD take-and-go center discounted rate to the site, where workers wear gloves, have access to masks, and maintain the recommended six feet distance between each other and the people they serve to avoid the spread of the corona virus.
Thousands of LAUSD’s 75,000 employees voluntarily spend their time serving food at take-and-go centers. Among them was Luis Anaya, a special education assistant, and parents of two LAUSD students, who had appeared every day during the pandemic to distribute breakfast and lunch outside Abraham Lincoln Middle School in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood in A.L.
“I have seen many people who really need it,” he said. “Every day, the number increases by hundreds. We get regular customers – morning workers and elderly adults who don’t speak much English. We serve everyone. “
Anaya praised what he called extraordinary efforts to keep students and community members fed during the pandemic. He and his wife continue to receive salaries, a fact that makes them lucky when so many Americans find themselves unemployed, he said.
“Many of these families do not have the luxury of a two-income household,” he said. “So I thought [the grab-and-go centers] is a great thing. I grew up in one of those families, with one single parent trying his best to feed his children, so I felt for those families. “
School food provider Food Revolution has collaborated with WCK, a non-profit non-governmental organization that offers food after natural disasters and other crises, to distribute take-and-go lunch that can be replaced federally to students in cities including Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, DC
“We have worked around the clock to design and distribute more than 2 million healthy foods a week,” said Kristin Groos Richmond, founder and CEO of Revolution. “We design food for risk students that only reliable food for the day comes from school.”
Richmond noted that the company emphasizes culturally relevant food in its work, but also balances the need for stable food on the shelves for insecure families in homes that do not have access to refrigerators, ovens, or microwaves. Revolution Foods also includes strawberries, carrots, salads, and other products in individually packaged foods.
While LAUSD has a strong and collaborative effort to serve the public during the COVID-19 crisis, Jennifer Gaddis, author Lunch Workers: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools, acknowledging that other districts might find themselves in different circumstances.
“LAUSD is a leader in the world of school food, from being the first district to graduate purchase good food [program] “to improve their take-and-go meals quickly after school closes because COVID-19,” he told Civil Eats. “However, district policies and logistics vary greatly from one place to another, both in terms of how and whether free food is still served.”
How the Small School District Feeds Students
With more than 101,000 students, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, are significantly smaller than LAUSD, but are still the largest in the country. Staff there have also tried to ensure that students in need do not starve during a pandemic. Offering take-and-go food 45 sites and also has eight mobile take-and-go operations which makes stops all day long. Like LAUSD, it does not question individuals who appear to collect roadside food, but the Jefferson County program focuses on feeding children in need and not vulnerable adults.
About 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches, according to Dan Ellnor, assistant director of the JCPS nutrition services center. However, since schools were closed, the district only served a small portion of its usual food, up to 80,000 per week, he said, while the district served 100,000 meals per day before the pandemic. This means the district only gets about 13 percent of the reimbursement normally received from the federal government to serve lunch, which can make the nutrition program cash-strapped, Ellnor said.
“What we are asking is that the federal government give us a reimbursement based on last year’s number to continue operating,” he said.
That is not the only obstacle that nutrition programs face. JCPS has a central kitchen that allows it to make school food from scratch which is then distributed to schools throughout the region.
“We basically manage our own food factory,” Ellnor said. “But on March 13th [when schools closed], we stopped and started lunching with packaged goods. “
Lunch contains items such as sandwiches, yogurt, string cheese, sunflower seeds, cheese cubes, and pre-packaged fruits and vegetables, including carrots, mandarin oranges, strawberry cups, and peach cups. Breakfast foods include milk, and various breakfast grains and bars.
The transition from food made from scratch to packaged goods has also been adjusted for Bertrand Weber, director of the Minneapolis Public School’s Culinary and Health Services (MPS).
“We can’t cook, so we get bags of carrots, fruit and sandwiches that can be carried,” he said. “We still want to maintain the quality of the food, but all our initiatives about cooking scratches and vegetable protein are put on hold now. This is truly emergency food for families – families who three weeks ago never would have thought they would need emergency food. “
MPS partners with local child-starving non-profit organizations The Story of Sheridan to provide grocery bags filled with kitchen items such as pasta, tomato sauce, rice, beans, and canned meat to help families who are not safe for food during a pandemic. But the school district also faces challenges. It operates with a skeleton crew, with only 25 percent of the 330 school nutrition staff working regularly, said Weber, because many worry they will get the corona virus if they leave their homes.
“K-12 cafeteria workers are some of the lowest paid and most vulnerable school staff,” Gaddis said. “These workers put their own health at risk to feed and care for the nation’s children. We need to ensure that all schools have the financial resources they need to provide adequate compensation to workers and protect their safety during this crisis. “
About 50 advocacy groups, including the Pesticides Action Network, Roots of Change, and the Food Safety Center, wrote a letter on April 6 to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy to ask more protection for agricultural and food workers, like school food service workers. The letter calls for more personal protective equipment and extended paid leave for these workers, among other steps.
With the central kitchen closed and fewer students coming for lunch, full staff may not be needed at MPS now (and Weber said that workers who stayed at home during the pandemic were still being compensated). The district usually serves 50,000 meals per day, but has only distributed 10 percent of that amount since the Minneapolis schools closed in mid-March. However, the district has taken steps to provide food to students.
It operates a take-and-go center in 50 different locations throughout the city, which allows families to take full meals a week at a time. This district has a smaller portion of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch than LAUSD or JCPS; Only below 40 percent of the 10 MPS youths fall into this category. The shift from early meals to prepackaged lunches and the smaller number of children who take lunch at school will have long-term consequences, Weber predicts.
“The food and beverage supply chain is completely disrupted,” he said. “We have several production companies that are closed; they have no customers. “
On the other hand, producers of basic goods, such as milk, have seen sales surge during the pandemic. Market research firm based in Chicago, IRI and Boston Consulting Group’s partners found it US milk purchases rose 57.8 percent during mid-March compared to the same period the previous year. However, the closure of schools and restaurants has led to lower milk demand overall, prompting some dairy farmers to dispose of their supplies, do not damage it. But panic about buying milk might be one reason Jessica Shelly, director of student feeding services at the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), has been told to expect milk prices to rise.
Gouging prices and lower federal reimbursement to serve school lunch – Shelly said that the CPS only served 7 percent of food while school was in progress – could cause financial tension in his department. However, CPS strives to provide food to students who need it most by serving food in 24 different locations throughout the city. The district also works with community partners, including local La Soupe food rescue organization and Foodbank Freestore, to provide food for families rather than students. The district has received school supplies, such as pencils, paper, crayons, and activity books, to be distributed to children as well.
“We have a group that has donated toiletries, soap and shampoo,” Shelly said. “We have become a department store” for more than nutrition.
Over time, more and more families have stopped by to take food, and if needs increase, district community partners will “step in and fill the void,” Shelly said. “If we see an increase in needs, they can help us and build a place to eat near us. I don’t care where these kids get food from. I just want them to have a place to visit. “
Just as the community has respected food shops and fast food employees as important workers during the pandemic, Shelly said that the school nutrition staff were grateful for their efforts to feed the community during the coronavirus crisis.
“School nutrition programs have been improved,” he said. “Women’s lunch titles will be replaced by school nutrition heroes. Not all heroes wear robes; some wear aprons. “