Snackless in Seclusion

贺 朱 / Courtesy Photo / Pixabay

Food Insecurity in Washington during Quarantine

What do you do when you’re hungry? Do you search for a snack at home? If there’s nothing at home, do you drive to a restaurant, sit down inside and enjoy the atmosphere?

What would you do if you were a child who was in desperate need of a meal? Your resources at home are dependent upon what your parents, guardians or other caregivers can provide. On top of that, you can’t drive to a restaurant yourself because you’re too young. 

Youth who depend on school-provided nutrition might be forced to go hungry as COVID-19 becomes a larger threat. To limit the spread of COVID-19 throughout Washington state, many institutions have been forced to close. Some of these institutions, such as schools, provide vital nourishment for low-income families. 

Groups like the Clover Park School District and Nourish Pierce County are risking their own safety and health to provide meals for students in need, despite the governor’s mandate to stay at home. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee released a number of statements, encouraging Washingtonians to respond to the gravity of the growing pandemic by reimagining what their everyday life could look like and reinforcing a new norm. “If we are living a normal life, we are not doing our jobs as Washingtonians,” Inslee said. “We need to make changes, regardless of size… This is the new normal.” Most recently, Inslee announced the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, which requires all Washingtonians to stay home unless they are pursuing an essential activity. 

Some of Inslee’s earliest mandates include banning all events of 250 people or more, closing all K-12 schools and limiting face-to-face contact at post-secondary schools. All bars, restaurants, and entertainment facilities have been ordered to temporarily shut their doors to patrons. 

With these mandates, it is expected the state will see an increase in demand for childcare and food resources. With children out of school, parents, guardians, and caregivers are forced to either find alternative childcare or stay home from work themselves. As social distancing measures increase to slow the spread of the virus, the U.S. economy might begin to slow down.

During this time, families that depend on free and reduced lunch programs through their local school district may be caught off-guard, and in need of vital nourishment. Many local groups are trying to support these communities with less food security and resources. 

One such support group is the Student Nutrition and Transportation departments within the Clover Park School District. CPSD operates within Lakewood and parts of Joint Base Lewis-McChord and encompasses the Pierce Fort Steilacoom campus. On their website, CPSD reported that their district serves over 12,000 students between the ages of 5 and 18. Of these students, 71 percent qualify for and benefit from the free and reduced lunch program. 

During the governor-mandated school closures, the district organized a way to deliver breakfast and lunch by bus to all children ages 18 and younger, regardless of whether they are enrolled in CPSD. They recruited volunteers, including some from Pierce College, to bag meals that would eventually get passed out at 69 bus stops throughout the Pierce community.

The meal-delivery service is directly impacting members of the community, including Melanie Love, a mother of three. She described how the delivery times have helped give her kids a sense of structure while out of school. “We get through as much schoolwork as we possibly can… so we can spend most of the afternoon outside playing,” Love said. 

She also shared how the free meals support daily organization and portion control. “It has helped to have the breakfast; the lunch. Like okay, ‘You’re having this for breakfast… You can have that for snacks… Don’t just go eat all the stuff at once!’ Because that’s what my kids would do,” Love said.

Even before CPSD announced their plans to provide meals, local students were preparing to do the same on their own time. Christian Aguilar, the senior class president at Lakes High School, organized a system of food collection and delivery for local food-insecure families. 

By spreading the word through social media, Christian managed to collect and distribute 130 bags of non-perishable foods. He prioritized the collection of pre-packaged items with long shelf lives. Each bag included goods like mac and cheese, bread, peanut butter and jelly, cereal, ramen, soup, and a variety of snacks. Christian worked alongside CPSD counselors to identify which students would need the most support. “Our goal was to cover the middle schools that were not a priority, to fill the gap,” Christian said.

Tacoma Public Schools are also providing walk-up and drive-through services from 10 a.m. to noon at several middle schools to provide free breakfast and lunch meal distribution for any child under 18, regardless of whether they live or attend school in the district. In addition, all of the elementary schools in the Puyallup School District are providing a weekly meal ration at all of their 22 elementary schools on Mondays from 11 a.m. to noon.

Other school districts, such as the union of Seattle Public Schools, also planned ways 

to feed their local youth. In SPS, starting March 16, employees are distributing grab-and-go sack lunches to students at 26 select school locations Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Seattle-area food bank volunteers will also supply weekend food bags for all families in need at any of the 26 school locations listed. Students are being instructed to refrain from eating them at the school to ensure they practice social distancing and good hygiene. 

In the Pierce College community, Jonas Upman, the Economic Mobility Coordinator, assures students that the Nourish Mobile Food Bank will maintain its regularly scheduled stops at the Puyallup and Fort Steilacoom campuses. Food is provided based on household size, and no ID is required. The mobile food bank can be accessed on the Puyallup campus on Mondays from 1 to 3 p.m. outside the Arts & Allied Health Building. Alternatively, for those living closer to the Fort Steilacoom campus, the food bank is available Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. in Parking Lot D. Students can find updates on other food resources on the college’s Get Help page.

With the growing fear surrounding the virus, food and supplies in hygiene pantries are running low. Specifically, the Fort Steilacoom Campus Student Food & Hygiene Pantry needs donations. Upman, who works alongside Student Life, has asked for donations of packaged foods with a long shelf-life; for example, he said items such as ramen, juice boxes, trail mix and packaged dried fruit will last. This pantry serves over 300 students every month, and “anything that can be spared would be appreciated,” Upman added. 

In this time of global panic, it’s vital humanity does it’s best to stay calm and respect others. Groups of Washingtonians are providing care and support for the state’s hungry youth in need every day, despite the risk of infection. Schools are offering to feed youth until the end of the school closure. From this information, it can be assumed meals will stop being provided at the district’s summer release date. Hopefully by then, COVID-19 will be less of a risk to the public health.