Given the increase in virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, schools are seeing a decrease in school lunch program participation.
According to Angie Rodgers, President & CEO of the Arizona Food Bank Network, around 1-million students across the state eat meals at school.
Of those, around 600,000 qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunches.
This past spring, when classes moved online, Rodgers said on average for every 100 meals school districts had available, only two students were showing up for them.
“Schools were not in session, families didn’t exactly know where they could go to get meals … there was a lot of confusion,” she said.
Rodgers knows the need remains at least the same and likely greater given the economic hardships many families are facing. She said food banks are continuing to see around double the demand they usually would.
Despite an increase in participating during the summer feeding program — which provides food pickup and meal service locations throughout low-income communities — Rodgers said early indicators show, as semesters are beginning, at-risk and qualifying students are once again not taking part.
“We definitely want to get the word out to parents that free meals are available for their children,” she said, encouraging families who qualify to reach out to their local school for more information about how the meals are being distributed.
Cafeterias at some schools remain open while others have converted to a curbside or weekly pickup model.