Richmond Public Schools combats food insecurity during COVID-19

Infographic by Andy Caress

Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer

As Richmond Public Schools prepare to begin a virtual school year, the school system is working to ensure that children are not left without food this fall.

RPS provided breakfast and lunch to children in the Richmond community after COVID-19 shutdowns began in March, and the program continued throughout the summer. As the district enters an online semester, the program will combat food insecurity, or an unstable relationship with food caused by lack of money or resources.

“Our goal is to make sure that any child who needs food gets food,” said Chief Operations Officer for RPS Shadae Harris. “It’s very simple.” 

A recent survey by Melanie Bean and Elizabeth Adams found that the pandemic caused an increase in food insecurity in the U.S. Bean is an associate professor of pediatrics and co-director of the Healthy Lifestyles Center at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. Adams is a postdoctoral fellow at VCU Massey Cancer Center. 

The results of the survey were published by Adams, Bean, postdoctoral fellow Laura Caccavale and Danyel Smith, a health psychology graduate student. The study found that the number of families in the U.S. experiencing food insecurity increased by 20% before and during COVID-19. Thirty-three percent of families kept more high-calorie snacks, desserts and fresh foods on hand, and 47% of families bought more non-perishable goods.

The findings also showed that 60% of families bought less fast-food and prepared meals, and 70% of families increased home cooking.

Students or guardians must provide the child’s school lunch PIN to receive meals. However, Harris said the program is committed to serving students from RPS and the Richmond community.

“We will never turn any student away,” Harris said.

RPS gets a reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for meals served to enrolled students and pays out of pocket for children who either forget their lunch PIN or are not RPS students. 

RPS established bus routes for East End, West End, Southside and Northside neighborhoods. Each bus stop has a specific time for food drop off, and 12 schools will remain open for food pickup.

RPS parent Willis Weber volunteered with the food distribution program this summer and said he plans to help out in the fall as well. Weber said the school nutrition staff worked tirelessly to provide meals.

“Seeing that many people care for others was pretty memorable,” Weber said. “That was pretty great.”

Pickup locations are:

  • Henderson Middle School
  • Overby-Sheppard Elementary School
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School
  • Blackwell Elementary School
  • Boushall Middle School
  • Broad Rock Elementary School
  • Brown Middle School
  • Miles Jones Elementary School
  • Oakgrove-Bellemeade Elementary School
  • Armstrong High School
  • Chimborazo Elementary School
  • Holton Elementary School

Students can receive 12 meals a week: breakfast and lunch Monday through Thursday and two breakfasts and two lunches on Fridays. RPS will begin a fully-virtual semester on Sept. 8. 

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