Schools keep feeding students during closures

Schools keep feeding students during closures

By CAROLINE BECK and MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

At several Morgan County Schools today, administrators will be handing out grab-and-go lunches and breakfasts for what was supposed to be the rest of the school week to nearly 2,000 students who requested them. On Monday, staff will do it again, handing out 10 meals for students to eat during the week.

At Russellville City Schools, there’s one pick-up point available Monday through Friday for any student in the system to get a lunch for that day and breakfast the following day.

“So when the students wake up the next day, they have a meal,” said Russellville City Schools Superintendent Heath Grimes. “It’s a comfort to know you have your next meal. As much as this is about food, it’s about comfort too.”

Across the state, public K-12 school systems are figuring out how to feed the students who often rely on school meals while they’re closed at least through early April in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday evening, there were 39 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in the state, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Grimes said the system’s child nutrition program staff is preparing the meals, but a handful of administrators are passing them out in an effort to reduce possible exposure to the coronavirus. The nutrition director came up with a plan to feed students when cases of the disease were reported on the U.S.’s West Coast.

Morgan County Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said his system decided to hand out packaged meals once a week.

“That way, parents aren’t making five trips up here,” Hopkins said. “We’re trying to make it as convenient as possible.”

In special situations where families can’t get to the pick-up points, school resource officers will deliver the meals.

Hopkins said the system is trying to relieve a financial burden on families that are used to their children eating two meals a day at school. He said his two college-aged children are unexpectedly at home because their campuses closed.

There’s a financial impact to extra meals, Hopkins said.

“I can imagine what it’s like for others,” he said.

Feeding students during this closure is up to individual systems. Alabama received a waiver this week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue serving lunches to students in schools where more than 50% of students were deemed economically disadvantaged.

According to a memo sent to county and city superintendents from State Superintendent Eric Mackey, schools can only serve meals if they utilize the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or Seamless Summer Option (SSO). An expedited application process is being offered to those schools that aren’t already on the SFSP or SSO.

The memo also stated that all sites giving out food must be operated in a non-congregating setting and multiple meals can be distributed for multiple days.

Most systems will also be on spring break for a week during the public health crisis closures.

“Some have decided to offer meals during their normally scheduled spring break and some have decided not to offer those meals,” said Ryan Hollingsworth, executive director of the School Superintendents of Alabama.

“There are great differences in districts across this state from city systems to very rural county systems.  Each superintendent has to make this plan work for their school communities and within the federal guidelines.  We are also faced with changing suggestions and requirements from State and Federal officials as this becomes more widespread in our state and nation.”

Various food pantries and nonprofit organizations are also helping communities feed children while schools are closed. Anyone can call United Way’s 211 call center to see what resources are closest to them.

Anniston city schools will be providing meals from March 18-20 and then March 30 through April 3. There are designated pick up sites at different Boys and Girls clubs as well as Community Centers.

Breakfast and lunch meals will be provided and you do not have to be a resident of Anniston to get the meal. A child must be present in order to pick up the meals.

Huntsville city schools will be serving free lunches from March 17- 27 at various different schools from 10:30 a.m. till 1 p.m. Any student under the age of 18 is eligible to receive these lunches.

Birmingham City Schools said they are offering free meals to students from March 15- April 3 from 10:30 a.m. till 1 p.m.  Expanded meal service will begin March 19 through April 3 in select locations and will include sandwiches, fruit, cereal, milk and non-perishable items.

Decatur City Schools are offering curbside meals from March 18-27 from 10:30 a.m. till 1 p.m. at selected schools.

Florence City Schools are handing out meals from March 18 until April 6 from 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. A child must be present in order to receive a meal.

Hopkins and Grimes both commended their staffs and communities response to this public health emergency.

“When this is over, I think some of us are going to be grateful for the things we usually complain about,” Grimes said.