The COVID-19 pandemic means back-to-school looks a lot different this year. Schools and parents are facing difficult choices about how best to keep kids safe this school year. Districts are choosing between in-person instruction, remote learning or a combination of both. And we are all feeling uncertainty about the future. Will my child be safe at school? Will they learn what they need to if they’re at home? How long will this go on?
Feeding America estimates 1 in 4 children could face hunger in the wake of the pandemic, and that includes many children relying on free or reduced-price meals at school. Parents of those kids are asking all the same questions everyone else is. But they’re asking one more: will I be able to feed my children this fall?
Feeding America and food banks across the country are busy making preparations to ensure kids have the food they need as they return to school; no matter what form school takes –virtual or in-person.
Four ways food banks are feeding kids and their families during the new school year, no matter where they’re learning
1. BackPack Programs are providing kids with food to take home on weekends
Many food banks across the country run BackPack programs, which provide shelf-stable food for kids to take home on the weekend. If schools go virtual, families will be able to pick up this food at convenient community sites. Food banks are adapting to meet that challenge this year, including Northern Illinois Food Bank, which is providing students with bags that have sturdier handles to make picking up food or bringing it home from school even easier.
2. Drive-thru and contact free food pickup at local schools
Food banks are partnering with schools – even if they aren’t seeing kids in the classrooms - to give food to families of students using contact free pickups. Schools and food banks often give out fresh produce, meat, and pantry staples like pasta, peanut butter, canned fruit. At some pickups, families are not required to attend the school hosting the pickup.
For example, San Antonio Food Bank partners with a middle school that won’t be reopening immediately in the fall, but food distributions are continuing. “Pandemic or not, kids shouldn’t have to worry about going to bed hungry,” said Irene Alvarez, who manages the school’s food distribution.
Meanwhile, other food banks, such as Second Harvest Middle Tennessee, are adapting by providing schools with food each month that they can distribute to families as needed – including 30 schools in and around Nashville alone.
3. Bringing food directly to kids and families at their homes or bus stops
Food banks and their partners are working hard to make sure kids and families have food this school year and this sometimes means bringing food directly to homes or creating pop-up food pantries in neighborhoods.
For example, one pantry working with Feeding America West Michigan is using a school bus to deliver food to children in their school district. The pantry compiles a list of families that sign up in advance, they load the bus with food and make deliveries at three locations every week.
Similarly, Long Island Cares is delivering food to kids with a mobile breakfast program. Called the Aspara’Gus’ Food Truck, the truck stops at a number of community sites on Saturdays and Sundays, distributing free to-go cold breakfasts to kids.
4. After school meals are filling the gap in the evening
As school resumes, so do after-school meal programs for kids that help feed children who don’t have consistent access to food at home. Because many after-school programs before the pandemic included hot meals in a group setting, food banks are having to adapt to make sure kids still have a meal option without needing to eat with a group. Food banks like Capital Area Food Bank are keeping open all their after-school sites and are offering a to-go meal that kids can eat at home.
How can I help?
- Volunteer at your local food bank. Volunteers are an important part of packing shelf-stable meals for kids or families when school is in session. Find your local food bank and follow them on social media to learn what they need most as children return to school.
- Encourage parents who need a little extra help to reach out to their local school to learn what the qualifications are for meal programs. More families may be eligible for school breakfast and lunch programs this year.
- Raise awareness about free meal programs for kids. Meals for kids are available, but often parents don’t know where to find them. Check with your local food bank and your school district about how you can spread the word.