As schools shutter across New York and New Jersey, districts are preparing plans to feed the hundreds of thousands of children who rely on free meals at schools.
In New York City, where 900,000 meals a day are served up, public schools are still open, but Education Department Spokesperson Miranda Barbot said they’re ready if that changes.
“We know that for many families, school is the only place to get meals for the day and that need continues even if a school closes,” she said. “If a school is closed for 24 hours we’re prepared to serve grab-and-go breakfast and lunch for any student who wants it.”
More than 145,000 people have signed a petition close public school in New York City.
Nationwide, nearly 22 million students depend on free or reduced-price meals, according to a letter from the School Nutrition Association to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
In New Jersey, where a state of emergency was declared Monday, 37.2 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced payment lunch, according to state data. Districts across the state have canceled class, though most of the closures short term.
Local districts have planned home instruction and those plans include access to nutrition programs, a state Education Department spokesman said.
“These efforts will take into account the specific needs of the community and other local factors,” the spokesman said. “For instance, some school districts are working with their food vendors to establish programs to serve students, and some communities are looking to establish a “grab n go” distribution system where families can easily pick up meals.”
In Paterson, one of the state’s biggest school districts, the Department of Education may open a food distribution site in each of the city’s six wards, a Paterson School District spokesman Paul Brubaker said. Shelf-stable breakfast and lunch will be available if needed.
“We have students and parents who depend on the Paterson Public School District for food, and that is why we are formulating a plan for food distribution in case we need to close schools due to the novel coronavirus,” Brubaker said.