School closures can harm some kids, as school might be their best bet for a warm meal or shelter
Several areas in the United States have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic to an extent that cities and states have opted for school closures for the foreseeable future. But this is no vacation. An unexpected school closure means some disadvantaged kids lose access to reduced-price or free lunches. Luckily, several areas are taking precautions to make sure these at-risk children don’t go without.
Late last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved waiver requests in Washington, California, and Alaska to continue serving free lunches — as they do during summer vacation — in the event of school closure.
The decision was made in response to a letter from the School Nutrition Association (SNA) to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue asking that efforts be made to “ensure vulnerable children do not experience a lapse in food security in the event of widespread school closures.” According to the SNA, “nearly 22 million students each day depend on a free or reduced-price school lunch as a key source of their daily nutrition. SNA members, who work on the front lines in school cafeterias nationwide, are keenly aware that many of these children lack access to adequate nutrition when school is out of session.”
Other states have since received similar considerations. For example, the city of Philadelphia provided a list of over two dozen locations where out-of-school students can get free meals during the day.
The SNA’s letter offers further suggestions, including the following:
- Waive requirements for congregate feeding, as USDA has done in cases of extreme heat, to enable grab-and-go service and minimize the risk of disease spread.
- Permit delivery of meals to satellite sites, so schools equipped to do so can deliver meals to multiple locations throughout the community, minimizing families’ dependence on public transportation to access meals.
- Allow SFSP meals to be served at school sites, in addition to community sites, without requiring SFAs or states to request a waiver.