4 reasons big districts excelled at feeding kids during COVID

New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston school districts provide models for emergency meal distribution
By: | September 30, 2020
(GettyImages/Jamie Grill)

Food distribution efforts at the nation’s four largest city school systems revealed best practices for feeding communities during COVID and other emergencies, researchers say.

First of all, the free meal programs operated at the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston school districts increased access to healthy food for children and adults, according to a study by the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Teachers College, Columbia University

These programs also stood out because they provided at least one meal per day for students; displayed food safety information; and advertised that all children could eat for free regardless of where they were enrolled, says report co-author Julia McCarthy, deputy director of the Tisch Center.

All four districts partnered with community groups to distribute more food over larger geographic areas, the study found.


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The study focused on effective meal distribution strategies as many districts have continued with online learning this school year and will continue to provide out-of-school meals.

Also, food-insecure children are at increased risk for obesity and diabetes—two common risk factors associated with COVID hospitalizations, McCarthy says.

The study also encouraged administrators and their meal program partners to accommodate different dietary needs and preferences and to provide information in multiple languages.

New York City’s Department of Education, for example, offered kosher, halal and vegetarian options, and published food distribution information 11 languages, including Arabic, Bengali, Creole and Urdu.

The story also noted that Houston administrators operated the most distribution centers in “food desert” communities that are at least half a mile from a supermarket.


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.