School closings impacting food security for children amid coronavirus concerns

Updated: Mar. 13, 2020 at 9:15 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - COVID-19 is causing school districts and higher education systems all over the nation to close or transition to online learning for several weeks.

One question that many are asking, is how will children who rely on the schools to eat get their meals?

One woman is taking on the initiative herself.

“In times like this, I think it’s really important that we pull together and help each other out," said Ginelle Bathauer.. "There’s a lot of students that are much less fortunate than a majority of us are and we got to think about them.”

A bowl of cereal, a sandwich, fruit and water are all things important for a growing child’s lunchbox. Some kids cannot count on a packed lunch from home, and rely on school cafeterias instead for their meals which prompted Bathauer to ask herself, “In times like this, if they aren’t getting it from school, where is it coming from?”

“Starting with breakfast in the morning is obviously a really important part of their day to get their brains going and get their little bodies ready for learning, and then, of course, lunch before they head home. They’ve got to fill up their bellies again because their dinner won’t be until much later," she said.

Although the Georgia Department of Education reports meals will be available during the closures, Bathauer is taking it upon herself to collect food items to donate to students while they are away from school.

“I know I’m really going to try for non-perishable items, things in a can, Chef Boyardee and things like that," she said. "I’d love to give out fresh fruit because it’s important to be healthy.”

In the Chattahoochee Valley, Harris County, Marion County, and Meriwether County schools are just some of the schools closed for some time. Others, like Brookstone School and St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School in Columbus, have transitioned to online learning.

“You know, I hope they keep reading and keep learning, but I hope they get fed as well," said Bathauer.

If you are in need of the donated food items or want to help, you can contact Bathauer on Facebook here.

Feeding the Valley in Columbus is also working on a plan to help feed students if the time comes where it’s needed.

The Georgia Department of Education reports meals will still be available to students during this pandemic, but local plans are beginning to be announced.

In Harris County, there’s a plan for a food delivery program to students in certain Harris County communities.

In Stewart County, “The students will receive two meals daily during the eight days that we are out of school. The meals will be delivered by bus to each student’s bus stop at a designated time. On Tuesday, students will receive a schedule of meal deliveries. The students will report back to school on April 6, 2020, unless otherwise notified," Superintendent Dr. Valerie Roberts said.

In Chattahoochee County, “Additionally, student meals will be made available at the scheduled locations in the community to ensure every child has access to healthy food," Superintendent Kristie Brooks said.

"Late last night, the Georgia Department of Education received word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that two waivers have been approved to extend alternate meal service flexibility in the case of extended closures due to COVID-19, said the Georgia Department of Education in a statement.

This will allow schools to serve students’ meals through USDA-approved meal service options and at state-approved sites within the community. This is similar to the way schools and districts offer student meals during the summer months.

District superintendents and school nutrition directors were notified Thursday night and GaDOE School Nutrition staff held a call with school nutrition directors Friday morning to answer questions about the process. Local communities could begin seeing alternate meal service options as soon as the beginning of next week.

“We know food insecurity for students who rely on school meals is a major concern during school closures,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “We are going to make sure there are options available for students as long as they’re needed, and state and district school nutrition staff are working around-the-clock to get this up and running for Georgia’s kids.”

“We appreciate the work our local school nutrition directors and their staff are doing to provide these meal options to Georgia students,” said Dr. Linette Dodson, GaDOE school nutrition director. “Please contact your local district for information about meal availability in your area.”

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