Starting Monday, yellow school buses will once again stream to all corners of Durham County. This time they won’t be carrying children, they’ll be delivering needed food.
Durham Public Schools is launching a meal delivery and pick-up program that will provide lunch and a snack to schoolchildren every weekday until at least March 30.
Meals will be made available at “Grab and Go” sites at 17 schools and 50 “mobile sites,” mostly apartment complexes and recreation centers.
In an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, all North Carolina public schools are closed until at least March 30.
The unplanned closures leave gaps in more than lessons and test-taking. Approximately two-thirds of Durham Public School (DPS) students qualify for free and reduced school lunches, compared to the state average of 57% in 2018 .
Durham school leaders want to continue the meal programming until schools are reopened, but whether that happens depends on if they get funding, said Board of Education member Natalie Beyer. If the federal government does not come through, the public schools will have to look for local funding to continue, she said.
Beyer said school board members hope to have answers on funding by Thursday.
Durham is not alone in mobilizing food delivery while public schools are closed. Many surrounding counties have similar plans, according to a News & Observer report.
Organizers identified low-income neighborhoods and housing complexes and designed the plan to serve “our most in-need and vulnerable students,” Chip Sudderth, the school system’s chief communications officer explained in an email.
The locations of displaced McDougald Terrace families, who left their public housing apartments for hotels across the city in January, were also taken into account when strategizing the site locations, Beyer said.
This past weekend, the Durham Public School Foundation and other nonprofits delivered meals to families that needed them immediately. DPS needed 34 volunteers and they got over 600, according to a tweet from Durham County Public Schools.
The foundation shared photographs of volunteers wiping down steering wheels and car interiors.
In the midst of this coronavirus outbreak, social distancing will be a mandatory ingredient at meal pick ups. Sudderth said the district is advising people visiting the mobile sites to not gather in groups larger than 10.
“Crowds and lines will not help this situation, and DPS staff will wait to serve until students are organized,” he wrote.
Along with the food, students will receive school work packets. The contents aren’t intended to teach new material and do not require access to the internet or technology.
This meals program is not completely unprecedented. The school district has summer meal programs, Beyer said. The USDA-funded summer meals program ensures students still receive breakfast, lunch, and snacks even when school is not in session.
The impromptu program won’t fill all the gaps that opened after schools closed. DPS has universal free breakfast which students will not receive this week, said Beyer. Surrounding counties such as Wake and Johnston counties are including breakfast in their programs, however.
At top: A screenshot of a portion of the sites where Durham Public Schools are making food available for students. The entire list is here.