Lunch in school

Ohio News Connection

Ohio schools will begin their coronavirus shutdown later today, and local and state agencies and organizations are mobilizing quickly to ensure children in need don’t go hungry.

There are hundreds of thousands of K-12 students who rely on free or reduced-price meals at school, and the USDA approved the Ohio Department of Education’s waiver to serve meals in non-congregate settings and at school sites during the closures. Joree Novotny, director of external affairs at the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, encouraged patience as districts develop meal-distribution plans.

“We all are working on this from the school level to the government level to the philanthropic and charitable level as well as local businesses who are chipping in,” Novotny said. “We understand your concern and your fear. Trust that your schools are going to communicate with you as soon as they have the information they need to do so.”

Child nutrition programs in Ohio serve more than 1 million meals daily at more than 3,000 sites. Gov. Mike DeWine announced the school closures through April 3, but noted the shutdown could extend much longer.

Novotny said schools only are allowed to provide meals to students, so hunger-relief groups are trying to keep pantry shelves stocked to ensure food is on the table for everyone in households experiencing food insecurity.

“Low-income families may have parents who are now losing wages because they need to stay at home with their children who are out of school, have been quarantined because of illness, have had their hours cut or even been laid off because of the economic issues associated with this public-health crisis,” she said. “This is a larger food insecurity issue.”

Hunger-relief organizations largely rely on older adult volunteers, who currently are most at risk in the pandemic. Novotny said they are asking younger Ohioans, who are in good health and not displaying symptoms of COVID-19, to step up and lend a hand.

“All of this effort is going to take a lot of hands because food doesn’t move itself, it doesn’t prepare itself, it doesn’t package itself,” she said. “That requires volunteers. That requires manpower.”

Novotny noted that food banks and pantries are taking every possible precaution to ensure the safety of volunteers, including enhancing sanitizing practices to help minimize spread of the virus.