Monday marked the first day of free breakfast and lunch available for pickup as districts remain closed to safeguard against COVID-19.
Waco and La Vega ISD provide free breakfast and lunch for all their students under U.S. Department of Agriculture programs. Now, like districts throughout the state, they’re adapting those programs into curbside pickup stations at schools, community centers and churches, where parents can drive through or students can walk to for free meals. Anyone between the ages of one and 18, regardless of where they go to school, can eat for free.
Waco ISD spokesman Josh Wucher said the district plans to add a mobile service sometime this week, bringing food directly to students as well as adding more curbside sites. He said the district will announce new locations on its website and social media.
“Basically, we want to be able to provide the widest scale, reaching the most folks in our community that we can,” Wucher said.
Dave Thiel, child nutrition director for La Vega ISD, said he wasn’t sure what to expect for the first day of curbside, but the district gave away more than 200 lunches at its at its five campuses. He said the district is adding three more pickup locations.
“Beyond two weeks, we are certainly prepared to serve,” Thiel said. “We are prepared for the long haul if necessary.”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in McLennan County is up to 34 as of Friday, March 27.
Annette Alvarado brought her children to St. Louis Catholic Church, a Waco ISD pickup location, after seeing a Facebook post about the program.
“My kids are bored, but you know, I’d rather have them be safe than get sick,” Alvarado said. “So I’m keeping them busy inside with activities for now.”
Alvarado, who works at a restaurant, said operating hours have been reduced for the time being.
“We’re trying to not expose ourselves so much,” Alvarado said. “Right now, I’m just focused on keeping my kids safe.”
Another parent who didn’t want to be named said the impact on her life has been minimal so far. She and her husband have been able to continue working, but the uncertainty of the situation still weighs on her.
“I am a little nervous, because you never know what to expect, and people panic,” she said. “You go to H-E-B and see the shelves empty, and it hits home.”
The Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty is keeping a running list of participating schools throughout the state. Executive Director Jeremy Everett said so far, more than 200 of Texas’ 1,200 districts have closed, and he expects more will follow as more districts dismiss for spring break.
“This is completely unprecedented on this scale,” Everett said.
The collaborative is helping Texas school districts discover what they can and can’t do to help kids through the closures under federal and state law. He said the state lifting STAAR testing requirements will give schools more flexibility, making the decision to keep students at home for longer much easier, but long-term closures will still be a huge challenge.
“This is essentially an extension of the school lunch program,” Everett said. “That can get bumpy fast.”
The collaborative is working with the USDA to reach kids who can’t make it to remote sites, who attend rural school districts or who might be in quarantine.
“We have precedents in operating with partner organizations for summer meal sites,” Everett said. “We’re looking to a lot of those organizations.”
The state has waived requirements that school lunches be served in an area where students congregate, which allows the pickup locations to operate, but state law still requires schools to prepare food themselves, limiting what volunteers and partners can do.
“Our teams are used to coordinating and working in this capacity,” Everett said. “We have that to draw from, but this is of course very different. It’s required a lot of creative, strategic thinking.”