BY Stan Maddux
WASHINGTON D.C. — USDA is leading a charge to keep rural students who are out of school due to coronavirus from going hungry. USDA is partnering with groups from the private sector like PepsiCo to deliver nearly one million meals a week to students in a limited number of rural school districts closed from the COVID-19 outbreak.
During the March 17 announcement, help from the private sector were cited as especially critical for reaching children in rural areas whose access to alternative food sites is more difficult because of travel distances. “Feeding children who are affected by the school closures is a top priority for president Trump and this administration,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
PepsiCo is contributing $1 million toward the cause of identifying and reaching 200,000 of the children most in need. “As schools around the country close, millions of school children now don’t know where their next meal is coming from. In the face of this unprecedented crisis, it’s critical that the private sector help ensure these students have access to nutritious meals,” said Jon Banner, executive vice-president, PepsiCo Global Communications and president, PepsiCo Foundation.
According to USDA, practices learned through a pilot food outreach program to students last summer will be used to deliver food boxes to children from schools closed by the pandemic. Each box will contain a five-day supply of shelf-stable, nutritious, individually packaged foods that meet USDA’s summer food requirements.
PepsiCo is working closely with the Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty to distribute the food nationwide in the coming weeks. BUCHP uses a large network of experts in food outreach nationwide on projects like the Texas Hunger Initiative, the Global Hunger and Migration Project and the newly launched Hunger Data Lab.
Assistance from states is being sought to identify students in most need. “We know from first-hand experience that families with children who live in rural communities across the U.S. are often unable to access the existing food sites. Meal delivery is critical for children in rural America to have consistent access to food when school is out. This is one way we, as citizens of this great nation, can respond to our neighbors in need,” said Jeremy Everett, executive director of the BUCHP.
McLane Global Company, a food logistics and supply chain firm, is among the other partners in the effort. The Houston, Texas based firm also took part in USDA’s summer food pilot program, which it called very successful. “It was a great opportunity to bring private industry best practices together with the USDA to combat rural hunger. Given the rapid disruptions driven by COVID-19, we can work together to swiftly take this model nationwide,” said Denton McLane, chairman of McLane Global.
Under normal circumstances, Perdue said the meals would be provided in a group setting. Due to the public health emergency, the law allows USDA to waive the group meal requirement so they can get food to students broken down into smaller groups to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.
Waivers have already been given in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, he said. “We have already begun to issue waivers to ease program operations and protect the health of participants, Perdue stated.