How major US cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are feeding hungry students now that schools have shut down over coronavirus pandemic

  • The novel coronavirus has forced school systems across the country to shut down, closing off a major source of free meals for students in need. 
  • In 2018, US schools served more than 20 million free lunches and 11 million free breakfasts, according to the School Nutrition Association.
  • To keep feeding students in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, major school systems like those in New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Chicago have created systems to provide free meals.
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A week after closing its schools, New York City on Monday officially announced it would begin to offer three free meals a day to all children in the city who need them.

The meals will be distributed Monday through Friday at various sites across the city from 7:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. There are over 1.1 million students in the New York City school system. 

No registration, ID, or other documentation will be required to pick up meals, and all three of the meals can be picked up at the same time, according to a website for the city. The New York City Department of Education created an online tool for students and their parents to find locations of the free meal sites in the city. 

Other major cities like Chicago, Washington DC and San Fransisco, which have also closed schools due to the novel coronavirus, are offering similar programs for students in need of meals to pick them up.

At Chicago Public Schools, which serves 355,156 students, students or parents can go to any public school between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to pick up a package of three days worth of meals, which includes breakfast and lunch. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, school personnel in Chicago distributed more than 500,000 meals in three days to students in need.

Laura Dudnick, a spokesperson for San Francisco Unified School District, told NBC Bay Area that more than 2,000 families had picked up meals from March 17 to March 19. In San Fransisco, students can also pick up three meals each day, due to a new donation the school system received, Dudnick told NBC. 

Students who rely on meals from the LA Unified School District, the second-largest school system in the United States, can pick up meals from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. According to LAist, on the first day that grab-and-go meals were offered at 60 sites across the school system, more than 40,000 free meals were distributed.

"On an ordinary day in Los Angeles Unified we serve our students more than 1 million meals," LA Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a letter. "These are not ordinary days and we know many children still need help."

In DC, the office of Mayor Muriel Bowser released a list of locations and times people under the age of 18 could receive free breakfast and lunch. In total, DC children can get meals from a total of 48 locations, though some of the meal pick-up locations will not begin serving food until March 25. 

Miami-Dade County schools in Florida, which accounted for more than 350,000 students in the 2018-19 school year, according to data from the school system, is offering hot grab-and-go meals to students in need of them on weekdays from 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.

According to the School Nutrition Association, more than 20 million free lunches were distributed by schools in the US in 2018. That same year, schools also provided more than 11 million free breakfasts to students in need, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture. 

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