Nearly 700 children in East Lansing rely on local schools for free or low-cost breakfast, lunch and snacks — but most of those children are now at home with all local schools closed to slow the spread of novel coronavirus.
School leaders are working to make sure those kids have food to eat.
In East Lansing, when school buildings closed under an order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the school district had been giving away food for local families. The district recently transitioned from handing out food at several sites to only providing meals for pickup at East Lansing High School on Thursdays. Teachers and volunteers can place out food directly into cars.
“My wife is pregnant with our third children. So, these prepared foods have helped me and my family a lot in this hard time,” said Okky Arief, whose son goes to Greater Lansing Islamic School.
Arief has been picking up meals since the district started distribution. He used to get in line with other parents at 1855 Place’s Community Center before meal distribution was centralized to East Lansing High School. Meal packages include grab-and-go lunch, breakfast for the following day, supplemented with lots of nonperishables such as chips, granola bars, fruit cups and juice boxes. Books, school supplies and even gift cards are also often included in packages.
Arief, a second-year master’s student at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business, said his first-grade son, Nashrel, is keeping him busy during the day while Arief has been studying for his final semester.
“The school does not require much work for him to do, so we give him a lot of freedom to study,” Arief said.
Dozens of teachers and volunteers help the school with the distribution.
“It’s a challenge if you weigh the needs of the community versus the risk you put to yourself and others by coming out here. But, when I weigh those two options, I want to make sure that our kids and families have food,” said Dori Leyko, superintendent of East Lansing Public Schools. “That’s more important to me.”
To avoid crowds at distribution sites, parents can pick up food for other parents. Children do not need to be present to receive meals
Kimberly Steed-Page, director of Student-Parent Resource Center at MSU, said that this unprecedented situation has led to anxiety of many student-parents in East Lansing.
“We wanted to help as much as we could,” she said.