Detroit boosts food distribution sites to aid in feeding city families amid pandemic

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
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Detroit — The city has expanded its food distribution efforts and expects to serve about 40,000 families this week under a program initiated amid the coronavirus pandemic, officials said. 

The city's Parks and Recreation Department began passing out food at three recreation on March 18 to aid Detroit Public Schools Community District in serving families after state school districts closed per a state order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Renee Brooks, left, of Detroit receives a free lunch for her kids from Sherrill Bramley during the grab-and-go breakfast and lunch service at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

On Monday, the city added three new recreation centers —  Patton, Crowell and Lasky — to its curbside food distribution program and began increasing the number of meals being served to help meet the community need, said Erin Casey, the parks and recreation office's assistant director.

Patton Recreation Center will join three others — Adams Butzel, Farwell and Kemeny recreation centers — in providing meals from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Crowell and Lasky will provide meal pick-up from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 

The stepped-up efforts are projected to serve nearly 40,000 meals to youth across the city, Casey said. 

"Our recreation center staff and our after school program staff are out every day, packing up meals and distributing meals to families that drive up," she said. "We want to make sure we're feeding children."

The city initially provided 18,000 meals to youth in the first three days of its distribution program. The following week, it served more than 30,000 meals, Casey said. 

The city has about 50 staffers working to support the food distribution program. The meals are provided by local food vendors and funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. 

During the school year, the recreation department typically had provided only a few hundred meals per week to youth, and in the summer, a few thousand. 

Casey said the department staff has remained healthy. All are required to wear gloves and masks at the distribution sites. Meals at drive-up sites are placed in the trunks or backseats of cars "to minimize direct contact with citizens," she said.

Families with transportation challenges or fragile health, she added, can have a neighbor pick up food on their behalf. Staff will allow individuals to take multiple meals at one time to minimize the frequency of their trips for pick up. 

The recreation department, she said, "is committed on continuing to serve families until this crisis is over."

Casey said Detroit is also working with the city's school district to make sure that its infrastructure to continue with the program remains solid.

Earlier this month, the district restructured its food distribution plan after DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said Whitmer's shelter-in-place order caused more employees to grow fearful and because a number of staffers were becoming ill.

The district on March 26 began offering families a bag of four, precooked breakfast meals and lunches as well as learning packets, with plans every subsequent Monday and Thursday to continue to provide bag of meals and learning materials at 17 locations.

Chrystal Wilson, a spokesman for DPSCD, said in an email Friday that the district is serving about 100,000 meals per week to families who come out to the resource centers. 

Detroit Charter Schools also have committed to providing free breakfast and lunch for any Detroit child, regardless of where they attend school. Additionally, the city has partnered with Gleaners Community Food Bank on alternative sites for families to pick up groceries.

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