ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County Public School leaders say there’s a way for all children to get fed if their family has been impacted by COVID-19.
What You Need To Know
- OCPS officials say they have given out twice as many meals this summer
- Current program offers 5 days of breakfasts and lunches
- OCPS served more than 2 million meals from June-August
Ask any mother of boys and they’ll tell you how tough it is to keep them fed even when you do have a stable job.
“With three boys, they are constantly thirsty or hungry,” said Orange County mom Jennifer Bailey.
But since the pandemic hit, she has had to keep her boys fed without a job.
“I lost my job and I haven’t been able to work since … I worked at the ICON (on I-Drive), so that completely shut down,” Bailey said.
A waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for school districts kept her kids, and thousands of others, fed over the summer, granting any child, regardless if they were a student, curbside meals.
Orange County Public Schools reports that from June to August, it served more than 2 million meals this way. That’s double what they normally distribute over the summer.
“Even now that it’s open, they still haven’t been able to hire a lot of them back because they can only open a certain amount of hours,” Bailey said.
Walker Middle School Principal Rebecca Watson says many families are still struggling with the impacts of COVID-19.
She says they can see it in the background of students screens during digital learning.
“Parents are home taking care of their younger siblings as well or their elderly parents, because they have lost their job … so we’ve seen about a 40 percent increase in the number of students who are asking us for those things,” Watson said.
But OCPS Senior Director of Food and Nutrition Lora Gilbert says the school district is able to help again.
“What they’ll get is essentially five days of breakfasts and lunches,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert says the same program that fed so many in the summer is being extended, after the USDA extended its waiver from now until December 17.
“Any child 18 and under is welcome to come through, and get the meals... They can be 2 years old and we want to provide them meals,” Gilbert said.
The district says parents can pick up the meals curbside at any OCPS school 30 minutes after school ends. All parents have to do is provide their child’s name.
Bailey says for her family and so many others, this service will literally be a lifesaver.
“I think a lot more people would be sick and dying,” Bailey said.
The district is also encouraging parents to apply for the free and reduced lunch program anyway in case the waiver isn’t extended past December.