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COVID-19 And Student Food Insecurity: Hartford Public Schools Still Serving Kids

COVID-19 school closures mean uncertainty for students who usually rely on the lunch period for a guaranteed meal.

One Connecticut school district opened a student meal pickup Monday to meet the demand of food-insecure children.

Deanna Coutts, 12, was one student who came to the pickup spot across from the YMCA of Greater Hartford.

“I was scared that I wouldn’t have enough food because of the problem,” Deanna said. “You go to different stores and there’s not enough food.”

Two-thirds of kids in Hartford public schools take part in some type of food assistance program, according to the district’s central office. To meet their needs during COVID-19 school closures, the district is feeding kids at eight sites around Hartford.

“We have about 3,000 meals ready to roll,” said Lonnie Burt, senior director of Hartford public schools’ food and child nutrition services. “I have trucks deployed at every site so that if we have to move food or I start to see long lines, we have our walkie-talkies, and we’re calling and saying ‘put some pizza in that oven, get it here quick -- can you give us a minute -- and we will jockey food around.’”

Burt said she’s conscious of social distancing -- she doesn’t want her workers to get sick. In an effort to keep them safe, she has created a 3-foot buffer between the staff and meal recipients.

“They’re going to pack the meals at that table and put them on this table for kids to pick up,” Burt said.

Like everything related to the coronavirus, the effort to feed students is a rapidly evolving situation for Burt and the school district.

“This is temporary-type fix -- it’s not something that’s sustainable for weeks and weeks,” Burt said.

If things get worse -- and families aren’t allowed to leave their homes -- Burt said the district would try to bring the food to them.

Maybelis Martinez (left) and manager Charlie Rose (center) of the Hartford school district's food and child nutrition services pack lunches and breakfasts at the student pickup across from the YMCA of Greater Hartford on March 16.
Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC /
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Maybelis Martinez (left) and manager Charlie Rose (center) of the Hartford school district's food and child nutrition services pack lunches and breakfasts at the student pickup across from the YMCA of Greater Hartford on March 16.
Cook manager Ranicsa Roman makes sure kindergartner Aaliyah Colon, 5, gets two milks, one for breakfast and one for lunch.
Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC /
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Cook manager Ranicsa Roman makes sure kindergartner Aaliyah Colon, 5, gets two milks, one for breakfast and one for lunch.
Cook managers pack meals for children under 18 at Samuel Valentin Arroyo Recreation Center on March 16.
Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC /
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Cook managers pack meals for children under 18 at Samuel Valentin Arroyo Recreation Center on March 16.
Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, superintendent of Hartford public schools, helps a young child with his meal served by the district's food and child nutrition services at Samuel Valentin Arroyo Recreation Center.
Joe Amon/Connecticut Public/NENC /
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Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, superintendent of Hartford public schools, helps a young child with his meal served by the district's food and child nutrition services at Samuel Valentin Arroyo Recreation Center.

Copyright 2020 Connecticut Public Radio

Frankie Graziano joined CPBN in October of 2011 as a sports producer. In addition to reporting for WNPR, Graziano produces feature profiles for CPTV and the web.
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