With schools closed, MCPS distributes 2,800 lunches to students

With schools closed, MCPS distributes 2,800 lunches to students

Beginning Tuesday, breakfast will also be given

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Patricia Sakhi, right, hands out free lunches to students on Monday afternoon at Gaithersburg Middle School.

Caitlynn Peetz

On Monday, approximately 2,800 Montgomery County children received free meals from the school district, the first day of a statewide public schools closure.

Four days earlier, state officials ordered all schools in Maryland to be closed from Monday through March 27. For many low-income Montgomery County families, the announcement spurred concern about how they would provide meals for their children, who often rely on schools to provide breakfast and lunch.

MCPS on Friday announced it would provide lunches to any person 18 years old or younger on weekdays during the schools shutdown.

And families took advantage on Monday.

By 11:45 a.m., more than 100 people had picked up sack lunches at Gaithersburg Middle School, according to the school’s site supervisor, Patricia Sakhi. By the end of the day, more than 200 students had received meals. In the bags were fruit, vegetables, cheese sticks and milk. The menu for the rest of the week includes sandwiches and salad.

“Some of our students even come to school hungry on Mondays, so you’re able to tell maybe they didn’t get to eat enough over the weekend,” Sakhi said. “So this is really important.”

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Staff members at Gaithersburg Middle School distribute free meals to students on Monday.

One mother, who asked not to be identified, said the free meals are a “great silver lining” and help alleviate stress her family has felt amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Children can visit any of the 20 meal sites between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on weekdays; student identification is not needed. Each site has both a drive-thru and walk-up format.

Starting Tuesday, breakfasts will also be distributed during the same time. The idea is for students to have a late breakfast or for the breakfast food to be saved for the next morning, MCPS staff members said.

On Monday morning, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that Maryland received a United States Department of Agriculture waiver allowing schools to serve three meals per day, plus a snack, at meal sites across the state.

MCPS is working to determine “what that looks like” for the school district, spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said. For now, only the two meals will be provided.

When MCPS disclosed the locations of its meal sites on Friday, hundreds of community members flooded the school district’s phones and emails, looking for ways to volunteer and help.

Onijala said the county’s Office of Community Partnerships is coordinating volunteer efforts.

MCPS distributed approximately 2,800 meals to students on Monday.

“We’re directing people to the county office and they’ll point out where and how people can plug in,” Onijala said. “There are just so many federal regulations involved with our food sites, it makes it difficult for people to volunteer at our sites.”

On Monday, students’ meals were distributed by school employees, mostly those who work in schools’ cafeterias.

In a message posted on Twitter, school board President Shebra Evans said she and the other members of the board visited the 20 meal sites on Monday and thanked staff members for working “around the clock” to ensure students had access to healthy food.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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