Following Michigan’s K-12 school closures and stay-at-home order, efforts to flatten the COVID-19 curve presented greater challenges to food-insecure families. School districts, small businesses and organizations responded to the crisis with an abundance of free food-distribution services and support.
On March 20, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined Lansing School District staff and volunteers including MSU professor Robert Kolt to distribute donated school supplies and sack lunches at Sexton High School.
“It breaks my heart to think that because school is closed there might be a kid who doesn’t get to eat anything that day,” said Lansing Board of Education president Gabrielle Lawrence.
The Lansing School District established 22 food distribution sites for students and families to receive lunches Monday through Friday during Michigan’s K-12 school closure.
“I’m so proud of our district for being able to offer these food services to families as we’re going through this unprecedented crisis,” said Lawrence.
According to Whitmer, about 750,000 children in Michigan qualified for free and reduced cost lunch this year. While school districts are not required to provide free meal programs during the state-mandated closure, hundreds of districts initiated drive-up, pickup and bus-delivery services for the remaining part of the K-12 school year.
Angela Mercer, administrative assistant at the Van Buren Public Schools, said, “Students need structure. Kids need routine. We need to be able to somehow give that to them from afar. It is our job to provide them the basic necessities, and food is one of them.”
Small business owners including Lisa McDonald, owner of TeaHaus and Eat More Tea in Ann Arbor, and Sara Gardinier, owner of Traverse City’s Chef’s In, also made widespread food distribution possible.
McDonald and her team collaborated with the Ann Arbor Public Schools to package hundreds of care packages out of her store’s kitchen.
“I have resources of people that have the ability to donate money or time, and the Ann Arbor Public Schools have resources of people who need these services specifically,” said McDonald.
With donations collected from their community, Dan Guy, owner of Espresso Bay in Traverse City, partnered with Gardinier’s team at Chef’s In to package and distribute free sack lunches out of their downtown businesses.
“It’s important to have this resource here for people who need it and good for us as business owners to get out of our head and do stuff for others,” said Gardinier.
Independent food pantries including The Free Little Pantry of Midland County also responded to the pandemic by distributing sack lunches in addition to their non-perishable food.
The Free Little Pantry’s owner, Ashley Schroeder, said she wanted to make sack lunches available all day for children who aren’t able to get to the schools during their lunch pickup times.
MSU professor and Lansing School District’s media advisor Robert Kolt said, “Anybody can do something. Even though you’re at home and you might not want to go out, you can still do something meaningful.”