Detroit schools pare food distribution after positive COVID-19 tests

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Dive Brief:

  • The Detroit Public Schools Community District is decreasing meal distribution days over concerns about employee safety and health after some tested positive for the novel coronavirus, opting to distribute several meals in bulk on Mondays and Thursdays rather than five days a week as originally planned, Chalkbeat reports.
  • The district is also dropping the number of schools providing meals from 58 to 17. Options are being weighed that would allow food distribution to continue while still keeping the employees safe.
  • While the state is under a “stay-at-home” order, food distribution services don’t apply. Dearborn Public Schools, for example, will continue to distribute meals as planned, and the YMCA and Gleaners Community Food Bank will continue to provide meals and groceries for families as needed.

Dive Insight:

Meal distribution has emerged as a top priority among districts as coronavirus containment forces schools to close around the country, limiting access to food for students with the highest needs. In Los Angeles, 60 “grab-and-go” meal sites operate thanks to 1,200 staff members and volunteers. The food is for students and their family members, and this service could continue if closures last through the rest of the school year, officials said.

In San Francisco, meals are available every few days to ensure social distancing. A local foundation is funding meals for about 6,000 students, and organizations including No Kid Hungry and the Boys and Girls Club have also provided meals. In Fairfax County, Virginia, meals are delivered via 12 bus routes, and there are also 10 pop-up, 24 traditional and two curbside pick-up locations.

Last week President Donald Trump signed into law the national Families First Coronavirus Response act, which includes meal assistance for schools closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. The three meal assistance proposals included cover a nationwide waiver authority that allows school officials to distribute food in a number of settings and flexibility on what is included in the meals. These services are for schools closed by COVID-19 and those now transitioned to remote learning.

The waiver on certain menu requirements for meals could be useful if any “food supply issues pop up,” according to School Nutrition Association spokeswoman Diane Pratt-Heavner. In a SNA survey of 1,769 districts taken prior to the law’s passage, school nutrition providers had expressed concerns about being able to get meals to students, as well as over the “long-term impact of financial losses for school meal programs.” 

The Food Research & Action Center reports 37 million people live in households affected by hunger, with “untold more living on the edge of poverty” facing the hardest impacts of the pandemic.

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