School food still ready for needy US homes hit by virus

Alexandria (United States) (AFP) –


The paper lunch bags are piled outside of the doors of TC Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

Like many others across the United States, the school is closed due to coronavirus. Now it is a center for distribution of meals for needy students stuck at home.

In the bags are peanut butter sandwiches, cheese, fruit and bread, and some milk -- the free breakfast and lunch usually served to students while they are at the school.

"I got a text from someone this morning who told me where to go," said Nada, the native Moroccan mother of a six-year-old.

"I had not registered, so I can only get a lunch. But tomorrow I'm coming back to get meals for four days. I need it," she said.

Since Friday, the public schools in this Washington suburb have received 5,000 requests for meals. Parents of children between two years and 18 years old can register on line for a daily sack or a week's worth of meals. They can pick it up, or even have it delivered.

For Laura Molina, who has three children, the one delivering a week's supply of meals is local deputy sheriff Zackary Trad.

"I am so happy," said Molina, whose family is from Salvador and Honduras.

Since it surfaced in the Washington region just a couple weeks ago, Molina has been deeply worried about the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus.

"I thank god that the classes have been cancelled, because I was in a panic over the idea of my three children in school. I would rather have them at home," she said.

- 'Ready to help' -

Esther Karo said the delivery service for children's meals is a godsend. She is a nurse and cannot stop work while the virus spreads.

"I'm happy, this is not something I was prepared for. In times of crisis, it is something we don't plan, this is a great help," she said.

She stayed at home to make sure that everything worked for her three children on the first day of the delivery service. In the days to come, it will be her 16 year old daughter taking charge.

Just next to the US capital, Alexandria's public school system counts 15,000 students; TC Williams has 4,000 of them, making it the largest high school in the state of Virginia.

About 60 percent of the students come from low income families and qualify for discount or free meals -- crucial in getting enough nourishment. With the schools closed, that was at risk.

"There is a need to serve meals to the children when they are not in school," explained Sara Bennett, the assistant director of the Alexandria School Nutrition Services.

"We know that when they are not at school, they are home not eating."

Over the weekend, she said, they received requests for 5,000 meals, half breakfast and half lunch.

"The orders keep coming in," she said, adding that they will continue as long as the schools are shut

"We are all living in a very unique time, I don't think anybody could have predicted this," said the school's principal, Peter Balas.

"Just be able to help out however we can is very refreshing for us."