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School district ends meals program after COVID-19 strikes employee

A day after learning that an employee who helped hand out meals is sick with COVID-19, Durham Public Schools is ending a drive to feed students forced home by the coronavirus.

“I am grateful for all of our staff who have provided immediate food assistance to our children while in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis. We now need to focus on the health and wellness of our employees,” DPS Superintendent Pascal Mubenga wrote Thursday evening.

School officials learned Wednesday night that an employee who was working at Bethesda Elementary School giving out food and learning packets had the coronavirus illness.

Officials closed Bethesda’s kitchen to disinfect it Thursday. And other school district kitchens prepared meals for Bethesda on Thursday, said Patricia Hollingsworth, the school district’s community engagement director.

The school system’s decision to end the program — Monday will be the final day — comes less than two weeks after the outreach started on March 23. From the start, demand for the food was there, according to data school officials released Thursday.

Last week, staff handed out 27,857 lunches and 27,854 snacks at schools and community sites. School buses traveled more than 5,300 miles get deliver food to pick-up sites for students who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

The announcement Thursday noted that the state has increased benefits to Food and Nutrition Services recipients through April 2020. No Kid Hungry North Carolina has also organized food pick up sites.

The Durham Public Schools Foundation has launched a drive to help feed Durham families as well.

At top: Durham elementary and high schools are among the sites where Durham Public Schools has been providing meals to students kept home by the coronavirus.