The early morning hours felt bitterly cold in the San Fernando Valley. At least it was not raining on the volunteers standing inside parking lots at San Fernando and Kennedy high schools on Wednesday, March 18. But the addition of rain probably would not have deterred the men and women standing out here.
They were busy distributing bags of food to families of students that attend Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools. Although all schools are closed due to the pandemic outbreak of the coronavirus, 60 LAUSD campuses — including San Fernando High and Kennedy High — are being used as “Grab and Go Food Centers” and providing a free breakfast and lunch meal.
The Food Centers will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., Monday through Friday.
Wednesday was the first day all food centers were open and operational. They are primarily drive-through setups: the public pulls up to a table in a vehicle and tells a volunteer how many children they need meals for. The driver or someone inside the vehicle then collects the number of meals requested. The volunteers are not allowed to hand the meals to the public, but they account for and replace the bags of food on the tables as needed.
“This morning we are providing cereal and milk, and for lunch they’re providing a turkey sandwich with carrots and milk,” said Renato Lira, a Red Cross volunteer helping to distribute meals at San Fernando High.
Lira said the early morning drive-up traffic had been sparse, but added, “We’re prepared to hand out 3,000 meals today.”
At Kennedy High, Remon Corley, a director at LAUSD’s local District Northwest, said having the public collect the food themselves would be required at each and every food center.
“To the fullest extent possible we want to practice social distancing, because we want to make sure that everyone here volunteering is also safe,” Corley said. “But we also want to do it in a friendly manner so everyone feels comfortable. So far today, everyone is leaving here with smiles, and seem happy we’re here to support them.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday that schools across the state could potentially remain closed for the remainder of the school year.
Speaking to reporters at one of the LAUSD’s food centers at Dorsey High School in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Superintendent Austin Beutner said he expects to give an update on long-range plans early next week.
We’ll be sharing with our school community on Monday what we believe the path forward is,’’ he said. “Our goal today, tomorrow is to make sure that we provide as much support (for) our families that we can.’’
District officials had originally sought to open Family Resource Centers to assist families affected by the school closures, but were unable to secure needed health and public safety approvals.
So the district instead created the “Grab and Go” concept, and added 20 more schools to be part of the program.
“At this time, state and local health and public safety officials cannot assure us it will be safe for the children and adults at the Family Centers for us to provide care for children at these sites,” Beutner wrote in a statement to the district.
To those working at Kennedy and San Fernando, it was just another aspect of the current crisis that people are dealing with.
“This all seems so surreal in a lot of ways,” Corley said. “Two weeks ago we couldn’t have imagined do this — we just envisioned us still having school. But being out here today does feel good to be a part of this, to know that even though we’re not physically able to work with our kids and families because of the situation, we’re still able to serve them in some way.”
In addition to LAUSD schools, it was announced Wednesday that nearly 100 charter schools will provide free meals to LA students.
The California Charter Schools Association released a list of 82 charter schools across the Los Angeles area that would provide free meals to any child under the age of 18 regardless of which school they attend. The program started Wednesday, and by Friday nearly 100 local charter public schools will offer students meals without charge at Grab-and-Go pick-up sites throughout the county, according to a statement.
“Parents have too many worries right now and charter schools are here to help provide a free and nutritious meal for all children. It’s one less thing for families to worry about,” said Myrna Castrejon, President and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.
“Our organization, along with many other charter public schools across Los Angeles, is committed to supporting our entire community through this unprecedented health crisis. Expanding city-wide food security is a critical way for us to meet that challenge,” said Marcia Aaron, CEO, KIPP SoCal Public Schools. “We know how important food safety and access to healthy food is at a time when so many of our families are facing job insecurity and loss.”
The collective effort more than doubles food service resources for public school families city-wide and comes on the heels of mass school closures of charter, district, and private schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Thousands of schools throughout California have closed, and could remain closed for the rest of the school year.
Those seeking more information regarding the charter schools as food distribution centers should visit: http://info.ccsa.org/la-county-charter-school-meals.
City News Service contributed to this report.
“Grab and Go” Locations in the Valley
The Los Angeles Unified School District, in partnership with the Red Cross, will continue to provide nutritious meals to all students who need them during the temporary closure of schools.
The Grab & Go Food Centers opened on Wednesday, March 18, and are staffed weekdays from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Each child can take home two nutritious meals.
Here is a listing of Valley-area LAUSD schools participating in the “Grab and Go” Food Centers;
LOCAL DISTRICT NORTHEAST
Byrd Middle School
8501 Arleta Ave., Sun Valley 91352
East Valley Senior High School
5525 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood 91601
Fulton College Preparatory School
7477 Kester Ave., Van Nuys 91405
Maclay Middle School
12540 Pierce Ave., Pacoima 91331
Panorama Senior High School
8015 Van Nuys Blvd., Panorama City 91402
Romer Middle School
6501 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood 91606
San Fernando Senior High School
11133 O’Melveny Ave., San Fernando 90140
Van Nuys Senior High School
6535 Cedric Ave., Van Nuys 91411
Verdugo Hills Senior High School
10625 Plainview Ave., Tujunga 91042
LOCAL DISTRICT NORTHWEST
Chatsworth Charter High School
10027 Lurline Ave., Chatsworth 91311
Columbus Middle School
22250 Elkwood St., Canoga Park 91304
Kennedy High School
11254 Gothic Ave., Granada Hills 91344
Mulholland Middle School
17120 Vanowen Ave., Lake Balboa 91406
Porter Middle School
15960 Kingsbury St., Granada Hills 91344
Sepulveda Middle School
15330 Plummer St., North Hills 91343
Sutter Middle School
7330 Winnetka Ave., Winnetka 91306