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School meal programs remain essential this fall, even for online students

Posted at 4:14 AM, Sep 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-08 04:14:05-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — It's no secret that food inequity is a looming problem for thousands of families in metro Detroit, one only made more obvious by the coronavirus pandemic. When all schools shifted to online instruction back in March, districts had to adjust their free meal programs to continue to meet needs; now, they're having to do that again.

“It’s certainly has been really really difficult given to that fact that they’re not in school," said Hazel Park Superintendent Dr. Amy Kruppe.

More than 70 percent of Hazel Park students qualify for free or reduced meals during the school year. And while the district is still offering free meals for pick-up three days a week this fall, because students are learning online until likely October, it can pose a challenge for working families she said.

“You’re a single parent, you’re at home with your child and they’re learning. And you’ve got to figure out how to get from your home to those places to get that food," Dr. Kruppe told Action News.

To make things easier, this year Hazel Park is offering microwaveable meals for pick-up.

“Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 10-1 our students will be able to pick-up the meals," Dr. Kruppe said.

Detroit Public Community School District is offering both face-to-face and virtual instruction this fall. In the beginning of the pandemic, DPSCD distributed 110,000 meals on a weekly basis; that's since dropped to around 25,000 meals weekly.

“We believe that some of that was due to some parents returning to work and students who were out of school probably didn’t eat as often as perhaps they should have," said DPSCD Assistant Superintendent Machion Jackson.

Prior to last week, Jackson pointed to concerns over changes in USDA requirements for free meal programs, which would have taken away some district flexibility for these grab & go meal programs. The USDA had planned to require districts to return to normal pre-pandemic standards for breakfast and lunch programs, which would rely on meeting certain enrollment numbers, she said. But that policy was rolled back, and now programs like DPSCD will continue with more flexibility until Dec. 31.

DPSCD families can pick-up freshly pre-prepared grab & go meals at any DPSCD school two days a week. On Mondays, they'll receive three breakfast servings and three lunch servings per student and on Thursdays they'll receive two breakfast servings and two lunch servings.

“It’s a fact, in Detroit we do have barren communities where there are some food insecurities. And the majority of those children in those communities receive nourishment only by going to school," Jackson told Action News.