Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, our team began planning with the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Our mission remains to support DPI however needed in addressing the many challenges of safely continuing meal service for NC public school students, especially those who rely on school meals.
Governor Roy Cooper announced NC schools would close beginning March 16, 2020 due to the public health emergency, and USDA announced that the Summer Nutrition Programs for children could be used to provide meals during the unanticipated school closures. Within 24 hours, our team launched a webpage to provide resources for food service organizations on the front lines and to inform families in need where free, healthy meals would be available for teens and children through the federally assisted programs. Among our other actions to support the emergency response, we continue to post daily updates to a map of meal locations and a county-by-county list of extensive web content from the meal providers, and widely promote use of a meal locator text service hosted by No Kid Hungry, a campaign of Share Our Strength.
NC RESTAURANTS FEEDING KIDS!
As the emergency evolves, sustainability of meals for kids is a priority. In partnership with DPI, our team is in rapid response mode, adjusting as needed while exploring new ways to streamline getting meals to children.
An exciting opportunity is inviting new vendors, restaurants, and other food providers to help in feeding kids during this crucial time. The prospects are a win-win for the children and communities since it could mean an economic boost for local restaurants and businesses that have never been part of the federal child hunger-relief programs. Broadening the base by such positive community engagement could create unlimited future partnership benefits.
SUPPLIERS SUPPORTING NC SCHOOL AND SUMMER NUTRITION
In these unprecedented times, we want to work as a community to ensure children receive nourishing meals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our school districts and community sponsors for Summer Nutrition Programs may experience issues with sourcing from traditional suppliers or vendors the food, non-food products, and equipment needed to sustain meal service for children during school closures.
To assist our school district and community sponsors, the NC Department of Public Instruction and the Carolina Hunger Initiative aim to collect information on additional potential suppliers who can sell needed products for meal service.
EMERGENCY MEALS TO YOU
Emergency Meals to You (eMTY) is a USDA demonstration project led by the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty that ships meals directly to the homes of kids in need in unserved rural areas.
The Carolina Hunger Initiative is working to connect school districts with this opportunity.
Child Nutrition Team at UNC HPDP
Almost one million children in North Carolina are at risk of hunger. This number includes almost 900,000 (60%) of our 1.5 million K-12 public school students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals – along with at least 100,000 younger siblings not yet in school. Working with school districts and community partners across the state, our goal is to increase access to healthy food options served through the underutilized federally assisted nutrition programs for kids.
NUTRITION EDUCATION: Our USDA-supported SNAP-Ed child nutrition project engages up to 30 college students per semester working with school-age children who need meals at school to teach Cooking Matters classes to the children. Both young students and college student teachers learn more about good nutrition through this learning experience.
POLICY, SYSTEMS, AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE: An important focus of our SNAP-Ed child nutrition project is to create more opportunities to provide healthy meal choices for children in economically disadvantaged areas. We use this lens to advance changes in policies and food systems that increase access to USDA child nutrition programs. This access issue is most challenging in rural areas which means most of North Carolina.
EXPANDED ACCESS: Our team seeks to break down the barriers to children in need getting healthy meals year-round. We advocate for innovative ways to provide school breakfast and lunch, afterschool meals and summer meals to more children, more consistently across the state.
Blue Cross NC Child Hunger Impact Project
This three-year funding partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is awarding grants statewide to schools and community organizations that provide critical meals for kids who need them at breakfast, after school and in the summer months. Share Our Strength is coordinating the grant process with the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
Using funding from the mini-grants, dozens of schools around the state have begun innovative breakfast in the classroom and grab and go morning meals sometimes served through second period.
At-risk afterschool meal programs also are benefiting from the mini-grants that are being used for enrichment activities, facilities and supplies, and staffing to help increase participation and sustain programs.
Twenty-three schools and community partners across the state have already been granted funds to begin or expand school breakfast, summer meals, and afterschool meals programs. The timeline for future rounds of grants is still being determined due to the unanticipated school closures from the statewide COVID-19 response.