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Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality

Ensuring Access to Nutritious Meals During School Closures Due to COVID-19

Ensuring Access to Nutritious Meals During School Closures Due to COVID-19

As schools remain closed due to COVID-19 — and with many states announcing that they will stay closed for the rest of the school year — communities in every state are working together to fill the nutrition gap created by the absence of traditional school meals.

outdoor food distribution set-upDuring unexpected school closures, school districts and other program providers can use the federally funded Summer Nutrition programs to provide meals to students at no cost as a replacement for school meals. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued many temporary flexibilities through nationwide waivers to ensure children are able to receive meals while maintaining social distancing, such as allowing meals to be taken home, allowing parents or guardians to pick up meals if allowed by the state, and allowing multiple days’ worth of meals to be distributed at one time.

As a result of these program flexibilities, and community collaboration, innovative meal programs are being implemented across the country.

  • Seattle Public Schools (WA) is providing “grab and go” meals during the week at various school sites, as well as partnering with area food bank volunteers to provide weekend food bags for students and their parents.
  • Indy Parks and Recreation (IN) is serving a variety of meal options — breakfast and lunch, lunch and snack, and just dinner — across all of its family recreation centers in Indianapolis. In addition to city buildings, Indy Parks and Recreation is serving meals at apartment complexes.
  • The YMCA of Centre County (PA) is providing meals and snacks at multiple meal sites across the county, including Ys, schools, and fire stations. They are also supplementing its Summer Food Service Program with donations from grocery stores, community members, farmers, universities, and restaurants.
  • The City of Little Rock (AR) is working with the school district to provide meals at libraries, schools, and community centers across Little Rock. They are also able to provide shelf-stable meals for parents.

school bus staged for food distribution to families

In addition to providing meals at school and community sites, the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program provides every state a critical opportunity to further support families that rely on free or reduced-price school meals. Through P-EBT, states can issue eligible households an EBT card, similar to SNAP, with the value of the free school breakfast and lunch reimbursement rates for the number of weekdays that schools are closed due to COVID-19 (estimated to be around $5.70 per day). Eligible households include those with children certified to receive free or reduced-price school meals and children who attend schools that offer free school meals to all students. As of April 28, 12 states have submitted plans and have been approved to provide benefits through P-EBT.

What can out-of-school time advocates do to connect families to nutrition resources during this time?

  1. Let parents and guardians know how they can find meal sites in their community by sharing information on websites, social media, and across networks. USDA’s Meals to Kids Map lists available meal sites and hours of operation.
  2. Stay up-to-date on P-EBT, including whether your state has been approved to provide benefits to families. Once state P-EBT plans are approved, it is important that families are aware of the opportunity and have the information they need to access benefits quickly.
  3. Share in the comments below how your community is working to ensure access to nutrition during this time. FRAC has created a resource that highlights the different models that school districts and program providers are operating.

school staff providing drive-thru food distributionThe Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) is keeping advocates and partners updated on efforts to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the health, well-being, and food security of low-income people.

For breakfast, I had I had coffee and toast.

Author: @clarissahayesfrac

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