Special to the Transcript
As Massachusetts grapples with the shuttering of public buildings, schools, and businesses due to coronavirus, the one in 11 households and 1 in 9 children experiencing food insecurity before this crisis can depend on uninterrupted access to a critical child nutrition resource: school meals. Project Bread, in partnership with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, is leveraging decades of experience with federal nutrition programs and school meals in particular, to support community partners and school districts operationalizing grab & go meals at more than 1,295 alternative meal sites throughout the state.
As the Commonwealth adjusts to social distancing and a stay-at-home advisory, Project Bread and critical partners are quickly adapting existing programs and innovating to ensure continuity of school meal service in the context of a global pandemic. There is no one-size-fits-all school meals model during a public health crisis. In that context, Project Bread provides school districts with essential resources, expertise, grants and technical assistance.
“We know firsthand how important these meals are to so many families trying to stay healthy right now, so we are constantly optimizing –evaluating gaps and barriers and adapting as we go,” says Erin McAleer, President of Project Bread. Some districts offer “drive-up meals” to families through car windows to reduce exposure, others use bus routes to drop meals close to students’ homes. Organizations that provide free, federally-reimbursed meals in summer months are opening sites in many communities.
Project Bread is the central hub, connecting people to available food resources. Requests for assistance are met with compassionate and personalized support by Project Bread’s FoodSource hotline. Counselors connect people to a wide range of food resources such as SNAP (formerly food stamps), food pantries, the alternative school meal sites, and more.
“We’re looking at unprecedented demand in the coming weeks and months, so scale and efficiency are essential,” McAleer explains. Even now, school meals achieve both. Free to-go meals are available at more than 1,200 meal sites to youth 18 and under across Massachusetts. “We’re seeing communities, legislators, school districts, families, and government agencies come together in new ways. Collaboration and agility are paramount to effective crisis response and I think everyone involved understands how high the stakes are now.”
Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline (1-800-645-8333) operates Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10a.m. to 2 p.m. Assistance is offered in 160 languages and a dedicated line is available to those who are hearing impaired. The most up to date meal site information is available through the hotline or at www.projectbread.org/covid19. Strict safety protocols and best practices for social distancing are being closely adhered to across distribution models and locations for maximum safety. No registration or ID is required to receive a meal. Project Bread is designated essential by the government and will continue for duration of this crisis. the nonprofit’s COVID-19 Resources pages in English and Spanish.
Project Bread is the leading statewide anti-hunger organization in Massachusetts. Beginning in 1969 with the first Walk for Hunger, the nonprofit focuses on driving systemic change to ensure people of all ages have reliable access to healthy food. Project Bread works collaboratively across sectors to create innovative solutions to end hunger and improve lives across the Commonwealth. For more information, visit: www.projectbread.org.