Even though schools are closed for the next two weeks because of COVID-19, parents won’t have to worry about extra meals because local schools and businesses are preparing to provide them for free.
Last week the Pennsylvania Department of Education announced that the agency worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to offer a waiver to eligible schools to serve meals to low-income students while districts are closed.
Several area schools are investigating the logistics of supplying this option and going a step further, such as Portage Area School District.
“We understand this is causing havoc for families,” Superintendent Eric Zelanko said.
His district has the opportunity to offer both breakfast and lunch to all of the student body, and plans on rolling that out Wednesday with food available for three days this week and five next.
As school officials met throughout the area Monday and the logistics of beginning an operation such as this were mulled over.
Conemaugh Valley Superintendent Shane Hazenstab said once his district found out about the closure, the efforts to set up a free lunch program for all Conemaugh Valley students began. The program will start Tuesday.
“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Hazenstab said.
A similar effort took place at Portage and after agreeing to pursue the endeavor, Zelanko said trucks were sent to a distributor to pick up materials.
Coney Island, owned by the Clark family, is also making an effort to provide students with meals while schools are closed.
According to a recent post on the restaurant’s Facebook page, Coney Island will provide free take-out meals for area children from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. during the next two weeks.
Children have a choice of a hot dog, cheeseburger or grilled cheese with fries and a drink.
The Salvation Army in Johnstown is set to hand out meals during the closure and My Girls Deli and Catering in Somerset is planning to offer up to 50 free lunches per day to students in that area.
According to a release from Conemaugh Valley, Ribblett school vans, the district’s bus service, will be at several locations throughout the district, including the high school and Franklin fire hall between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to distribute lunches.
Hazenstab said the district decided to start with lunch and examine the turnout from there.
If Conemaugh Valley wants to add breakfast to the menu, it can.
Portage officials hope to have a plan in place for meal distribution locations determined Tuesday.
“We’re still ironing it out,” Zelanko said.
Greater Johnstown School District is also offering meals to its families and, according to a press release from the district, breakfast and lunch will be available at several locations throughout the area.
Monday through Friday from noon to 12:30 p.m. anyone 18 years of age and younger can visit Coopersdale, Oakhurst, Prospect and Solomon Homes to pick up food.
Additionally, as part of the Backpack Project Weekend, meals can be picked up Thursday and Friday from noon to 12:30 p.m. at the Coopersdale, Prospect and Solomon Homes and from 12:30 to 1 p.m. at Oakhurst Homes.
At Conemaugh Township Area School District, administrators are going to set up a meal program but in a different sense.
According to Superintendent Thomas Kakabar, families in the district are asked to reach out to Food Service Director Adam Thomas for any needed meals and arrangements will be made.
“This eliminates any guessing and any waste that would be brought about by over preparing,” Kakabar said.
Another alternative approach to this closure is being taken by Brownstown citizen Samantha Prosser, who exchanged books in the “Little Red Library” for non-perishable food.
Prosser added items such as macaroni and cheese, single-serve cereal cups and soup to the small box and placed a sign reading “Take what you need. Donate if you can” on the outside.
Riek’s Country Store in Brownstown has volunteered to be a drop-off collection area for any donations for the community box.