Schools shift gears to feed students during closure

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Schools on Monday scrambled to feed K-12 students as families coped with the new reality of being shut out of educational systems that provide more than academics.

Cheryl Sanborn of Madison Heights with sons Landyn, 12, and Aidyn, 9, pick up bags of breakfast and lunch foods at Lamphere High School in Madison Heights.

Across Metro Detroit, local school districts passed out "grab-and-go" meals and bags of food to students regardless of need. Families were able to walk or drive up to school buildings across Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties to get meals for free.

Educators are moving to fill the void created when all Michigan K-12 schools were ordered shuttered by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week. Nationally, schools served more than 4.8 billion lunches to children and more than 2.4 billion breakfasts to children in 2018.

In Michigan, 760,2196 of the state's 1.5 million students were eligible for free and reduce priced meals at school in 2018-19 and more than half of all Michigan K-12 students are considered economically disadvantaged, according to state education data.

Several districts, such as Walled Lake Consolidated Schools and Lamphere Schools, provided food on Monday to parents and children like Cheryl Sanborn, who along with her two sons, picked up bags of breakfast and lunch foods on Monday at Lamphere High School in Madison Heights.   

Walled Lake Community School District food service workers distribute bags of food at Walled Lake Western High School in Walled Lake, Michigan on March 16, 2020.

"I think it is wonderful, I mean the grocery stores are bare and empty and I mean, we kinda need it to supplement what we have at home," Sanborn said. "My kids normally get breakfast at school but they are distributing lunches too."

Other Michigan school districts, such as Utica Community Schools, are starting food programs on Tuesday.

Utica Superintendent Christine Johns said her district is offering no-charge "to-go" meals at 14 public school and community distribution sites for children and teens ages 18 and under. The program is open to all children regardless of where they go to school or whether they qualify for free and reduced meals, Johns said.

"We are even going to use a food truck in some high-volume neighborhoods where a large number of students live," Johns said. "We will serve hundreds of meals on our first day."

To help minimize the amount of social exposure, Utica school officials said families and children can either drive or walk up to outdoor distribution sites and collect breakfasts and lunches to take home.

Families will be provided with two days’ worth of meals starting Tuesday except for on Fridays, when students will be provided with three days’ worth of meals, school officials said.  Children do not have to be present for parents to request meals.

Starting on Wednesday, Detroit Public Schools Community District will begin serving breakfast and lunch at 58 district buildings.  A “grab-and-go” breakfast will be served, Monday-Friday, from 8-10:30 a.m., and “grab-and-go” lunch will be served from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Students will not be allowed to enter the buildings.

The district provides every student in grades K-12 with breakfast, lunch and snacks at no charge, regardless of income.

Royal Oak Schools is offering food pick- up at three locations and Ferndale Public Schools will continue to provide meals for students who get free or reduced price lunch at school while the buildings are closed.

The district also works with Blessings in a Backpack, a charity founded by a teacher that provides elementary school students in the free or reduced lunch program with meals for the weekends.

“It’s already set up with three weekends worth of food,” Ferndale schools spokesman Bill Good said. “Families will be able to come get that on Wednesday.”