AKRON, Ohio — With Ohio Schools closed until at least April 3 because of the coronavirus spread, there are concerns that many kids could go hungry at home.
Districts, including Akron Public Schools, have been scrambling to alleviate that worry by ensuring children — who rely on breakfast and lunch during the school day — have access to the same meals during their extended break.
On Tuesday, APS employees gathered at more than 40 schools and handed out about 5,000 grab-and-go meals to families. Food included sandwiches, apple slices, snacks, milk, juice, snacks and other items.
The meals will be available Monday through Thursday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at most Akron schools during the lengthy closure. On Thursdays, families will receive extra meals to help cover weekends. The meals are being made available to all children regardless of their school district.
Regina Nivens, who picked up meals for her high school son, emphasized how critical the food is to her family.
"If they were not still able to feed my son, I would be the one not eating. I would be the one starving at home, just to make sure my kids could still eat," Nivens said.
School officials said the number of food bags handed out could grow as families struggle with the extended time from school, along with the possibility of income loss due to many businesses temporarily closing down.
Sarah Sturkey, a child nutrition employee for the district, said the sudden upheaval caused by the pandemic could make it difficult for families to provide adequate nourishment.
"The concern is a lot of kids go hungry for a majority of the day, so their parents get off work and get home to make supper or they don't eat at all," Sturkey said.
Sherry Bennington, the principal of Findley Community Learning Center, said the food also provides reassurance to children during a very difficult time.
"Keeping that calmness for the kids to not alarm them, but to let them know that you're gonna be safe. You're gonna be taken care of," Bennington said.
Outside of Findley school, workers took extra precautions by offering a curbside pickup for parents to practice social distancing. For those who walked up, their hands were sanitized before grabbing the meals.
Sturkey and Bennington used words like "surreal" and "unreal" to describe the unusual situation schools districts are facing, but they're also glad to stay connected with families and are prepared to pack as much food as needed in the coming weeks.
"I'm glad we have resources and people who are freed up. It's huge," Sturkey said.