While school is out in the majority of states across the country due to COVID-19 prevention efforts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state education authorities are working to ensure students who rely on free and reduced-price food can still access it.
The USDA already waived requirements for all 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico that food be served in “congregated” settings, allowing for brown bag-type lunches for students who need it.
But showing up at a school to pick up lunch isn’t possible for all students, and students in need in rural areas could be particularly vulnerable. So the USDA on March 17 announced it will work with nonprofit and industry organizations to provide meals to students in some rural schools in areas with active coronavirus outbreaks beginning next week.
“Right now, USDA and local providers are utilizing a range of innovative feeding programs to ensure children are practicing social distancing but are still receiving healthy and nutritious food,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
The collaboration with Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global, PepsiCo and others will provide delivery of nearly a million meals per week.
“We know from first-hand experience that families with children who live in rural communities across the U.S. are often unable to access the existing food sites. Meal delivery is critical for children in rural America to have consistent access to food when school is out. This is one way we, as citizens of this great nation, can respond to our neighbors in need,” said Jeremy Everett, executive director of the Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty.
The effort, a USDA statement said, will build off a pilot program from summer 2019.
“McLane Global was proud to take part in the success of the summer Meals-2-You home delivery pilot program in 2019. It was a great opportunity to bring private industry best practices together with the USDA to combat rural hunger,” said Denton McLane, Chairman, McLane Global.
The Baylor University program will coordinate with state officials to prioritize getting food to students who are both in an area with an active outbreak of COVID-19 and who don’t have access to a Summer Food Service Program site. PepsiCo is providing $1 million in funding for the program.
Boxes provided to students will contain five days worth of shelf-stable, nutritious, individually packaged foods that meet USDA’s summer food requirements.
“PepsiCo is committing $1 million to help Baylor create a solution with USDA to identify children most in need and then we will help reach them with at least 200,000 meals per week — one way we are deploying our food and beverage resources to help those most vulnerable,” said Jon Banner, executive vice president of PepsiCo Global Communications and president of the PepsiCo Foundation.
Initial capacity is limited, and additional vendors are requested and encouraged to ensure food can be provided to more rural children as additional schools close. USDA has created a single contact for those who have suggestions, ideas, or want to help feed kids across the country. Email FeedingKids@usda.gov.