Schools are closed, but in many districts free meals are still available to children.
Celenia Cola, a 2nd-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Springfield, came bounding down the front steps of the school Thursday at noon carrying her favorite lunch in a brown bag.
" A sandwich like I always do," said Cola. "Turkey!"
While the 300 students who normally attend the school in Springfield’s North End are home for at least the next couple of weeks, they can still stop by between 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. each weekday to get a free lunch as well as breakfast for the next morning.
Adriana Torres, Celenia’s mom, praised the schools for providing the grab-and-go meals.
"It is a really good thing they are doing for our children and the community," said Torres.
Meals are being distributed at 14 of Springfield’s 40 school buildings. After a slow start, the number of meals given out has increased each day, according to school officials.
To increase participation, Springfield at midweek received an exemption to a rule that required a student to be physically present for an adult to pick up a meal. Now a parent or guardian can pick up as many meals as they have school-age children at home. Extra food is provided on Fridays to last through the weekend.
Superintendent of Schools Dan Warwick said the city’s schools play a key role in addressing food insecurity.
" It is so needed, we feed 30,000 kids a day," said Warwick. " The poverty rate in Springfield is one of the highest in the Commonwealth. There are so many families in need, so we want to make sure we are meeting those needs."
The coronavirus relief bill enacted this week in Washington included additional funding for school nutrition programs, according to Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal. The Democrat, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, said there is also a provision that waives certain eligibility rules so that more schools can give out free meals as high-poverty districts like Springfield are doing.
" We are trying, I think, to demonstrate some stability in this time of great turmoil and understand that food security and nuitron for the youngest and most vulnerable is part of the mission statement we developed as we go forward," said Neal
Alejandro Colon, who has five daughters at home, said his children are not treating their time out of school as a vacation.
"They are still reading books and some work the schools sent that we print out and they do in the house," explained Colon.
The Springfield School Department expects to announce new curriculum packages next week for remote learning.
All Massachusetts K-12 schools are closed until at least April 6th. Boston and other some other districts have announced longer shutdowns.