Feeding students: Ohio school districts, foodbanks work to deliver meals during school shutdowns

Butler County schools are aiming to make sure their students have meals during the state-mandated shutdown.


Journal-News

By Michael D. Pitman

BUTLER COUNTY, Ohio — Under normal circumstances, nearly 3,000 children every Friday in the region depend on food provided to them to last the weekend by providers like Shared Harvest Foodbank.

Image: Wikimedia Commons
Image: Wikimedia Commons

But with students throughout Ohio preparing to move to remote learning for at least three weeks, the Fairfield-based foodbank "are feverishly developing a plan" to ensure children have food for the weekend and now throughout the week, said Shared Harvest Executive Director Terry Perdue.

We are working with our network to provide bags to these children in advance to hold them over," he said.

Shared Harvest, which supports a network of pantries, soup kitchen and shelters in five counties, is "poised to respond to the increased demand," Perdue said.

Shared Harvest is asking for volunteers to help pack thousands of emergency food boxes for families "before matters become too critical for even groups smaller than 100 to convene," he said.

Butler County schools are aiming to make sure their students have meals during the state-mandated shutdown for the next three weeks to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

Some districts told the Journal-News they plan to offer bagged lunches to students, which will either be at no cost or a reduced cost for those on free-and-reduced meal plans.

Students who currently receive a free or reduced lunch will continue to receive that benefit," spokeswoman Gina Gentry-Fletcher said. "Students who are not eligible for a free or reduced lunch will be able to purchase lunch at the regular school lunch price."

Gentry-Fletcher said lunches will be available beginning weekdays starting today until March 27, and served as a "grab-and-go style" meals that will include a breakfast and lunch. Meals will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the child's school building.

About 42% of Fairfield's students are on the free-and-reduced lunch program.

Gentry-Fletcher said if they have any perishable items, "we will give them out to families," but they typically don't have many unused items leftover week to week.

Middletown is a 100% free-and-reduced school, and bagged meals will only be given to the district's 6,300 school-aged students, said school spokeswoman Elizabeth Beadle. It will work similarly to the district's summer meal program, she said.

Bagged breakfasts and lunches are to be passed out in the parking lot at each school building, and buses will take meals to bus stops throughout the city, Beadle said. Parents should refer to the school website for a complete list.

Meals for the 6,300 school-aged students will be passed out from 10 to 11 a.m. for the first two weeks of the mandated shutdown. The school's spring break is during the final week of that period.

Hamilton, which has 68% of its students on free-and-reduced lunch, will offer bagged meals from Wednesday through April 10, said spokeswoman Joni Copas. Hamilton's spring break starts on April 6, the first day schools can return from the existing three-week mandated shutdown.

There are 34 bus stops for meal distribution, at which meals will be distributed from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Students must be present with their parent or guardian to receive the meal.

Copas said parents and guardians can download the Nutrislice App to get the daily menu.

One Hamilton food pantry and mission believes it will be impacted by the school closure but won't know until today or Tuesday, said New Life Mission Director Felix Russo. Hamilton's Open Door Food Pantry and the New Life Mission were closed on Friday.

The pantry and mission serve lunches from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays at 415 Henry St. It serves dinner after a 5 p.m. service.

With people that rely on food pantries and community meals already, and we have a lot of people who are considered working poor who are working, that rely upon services like ours," Russo said. "Any time there's a disruption in that, it affects them."

Lakota Local Schools will have an extra week to figure out its lunch program as the district's spring break starts today, said spokeswoman Betsy Fuller.

"We are very concerned about our students who rely on us for breakfast and lunch," she said. "Twenty percent of our students are on free-and-reduced lunch plans. One of the many things we are looking at is how we might enact our summer lunch program while our buildings are closed."

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