Back to school” this year looked different than it’s ever looked before. Some kids returned to classrooms in masks, sitting at desks that have been carefully arranged to distance students as much as possible. Others continue to learn at their kitchen table, using laptops, tablets and phones. But one thing remains the same: too many kids in Texas and across America are hungry and rely on the nutrition they receive from school meals to learn, grow and reach their full potential.
In fact, in light of the ongoing pandemic school meals are more important than ever. Prior to this crisis, nearly 2.7 million kids in Texas relied on the free and reduced-price meals they received at school. This year that number will be much higher, as lost jobs and wages are making it more difficult for many families to pay bills and put food on the table.
A new report from No Kid Hungry, “The Longest Summer: Childhood Hunger in the Wake of the Coronavirus,” found that 47% of American families are living with hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic—and for Black and Latino families, that number is higher. The long lines wrapped around food banks are evidence of this right here in Texas.
Parents are adapting as best they can, but the reality is the pandemic has forced many families to make difficult sacrifices. This same report found that 51% of parents are skipping meals, 66% are making meals with limited options, and 39% are skipping other bills like utilities or rent in order to afford food.
School meals will be crucial to ensure these families can continue to feed their kids, but this year they look different than they have in the past as schools continue social distancing practices and remote learning. To reach the growing number of kids who rely on these meals, schools and community organizations need flexibility to operate programs in ways that adequately meet the current level of need and adapt to the situation unfolding on the ground.
The USDA recently extended all nationwide child nutrition waivers through December 31, 2020, making it easier for schools and community groups to continue safely feeding children of all ages for the first half of the school year. However this action falls short. Particularly in a state the size of Texas, where some school districts are figuring out how to serve tens of thousands of students each day, a stopgap measure thwarts the advanced planning and budgeting needed to do so effectively. The USDA must extend these waivers through the entire 2020-2021 school year.
Schools are ready to respond, and we owe it to the many kids and families who are struggling to find solutions that will support them.
Nutrition teams across the state have displayed an unwavering commitment to fighting hunger in their communities, despite the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic. Local school nutrition departments have been working overtime throughout this crisis, deploying innovative solutions to connect children with meals. No Kid Hungry Texas is incredibly grateful for the commitment, compassion and leadership principals and school nutrition teams have shown in stepping up for kids in a big way during a difficult time. We remain committed to supporting schools as they work to serve kids and communities across our state.
Learn more about No Kid Hungry.