How the coronavirus outbreak is affecting St John’s meals insecurity
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Danielle and Jonathan Rivera make sure that their family eats thanks to careful planning and kitchen magic. Jonathan, 36, works at Brickell’s Socal Cantina, where he makes about $ 20,000 a year as a chef. According to a 2018 study, Danielle, who uses a walking stick or stroller due to a disability, can make a small income with Amazon Mechanical Turk by doing simple online tasks for about $ 7.25 an hour.
Each month, the family receives approximately $ 200 from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as free school lunch assistance for their 7-year-old first grader, Emmett. Every now and then Jonathan can bring something – sometimes rice, sometimes meat – home from work to help with their meals.
You buy in bulk to take advantage of sales. They use loyalty cards to support their purchases and rely on carbohydrates to fill their meals.
“There are never as many fresh vegetables as we’d like, especially because my husband is diabetic,” says Danielle.
The Riveras and thousands of families panicked last week when St John-Dade County’s public schools canceled classes to protect students, employees and families and to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. There was a collective sigh of relief and praise when Superintendent Alberto Carvalho also announced that any student who qualifies for a free or discounted lunch can pick up breakfast and a hot lunch at either their usual school or the nearest school.
“We are a poor community – 73.4 percent of our students live below the poverty line,” says Carvalho. “Between 9:00 am and 12:30 pm, each of our children in each of our schools has the right to access a free, nutritious, hot meal.”
Over the weekend, the federal government granted the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) an exemption that allows districts to use alternative methods of distributing food under federal “social distancing” guidelines by limiting interactions between people.
During several conference calls last Saturday, the director of the Department of Nutrition, Nutrition and Wellness encouraged school district officials to come up with creative solutions, according to the WLRN.
“We see everything from pick-up loop distributions to meal distribution to the traditional school bus route to grab-and-go methods and drive-through methods,” says Lakeisha Hood. Hood is the director of the FDACS division on nutrition and wellness.
“Some of the other things we see are serving multiple meals in a meal service period … We have seen a few cases where there is a single meal service and both lunch and dinner in a day a breakfast meal are scheduled for the next day, “says Hood. “We have seen that there are up to seven meals – enough meals for a week – served at one mealtime. But we want to make sure that if you suggest such a thing, they have the ability to do it. “
While the move to offer take-out lunches deserves praise, the danger could be waiting for you in the following week – the spring break – if free lunches are not normally offered.
“We have never done that in the spring break, but it is no loss to me that parents in need are faced with a challenge, whether it is spring break or not,” says Carvalho. On short notice, the district was reviewing its deliveries to see if meal distribution was feasible during the spring break, and inquired with the U.S. Department of Agriculture whether school lunch requirements could be waived in order to receive reimbursement for meals worth of a week.
Another complication is that despite widespread closings, some parents may still have to show up for work, potentially making meal collection impossible.
“Many parents have reported that they are happy that the school feeding programs are still running, but do not know how to bring the food to children,” says housing activist Valencia Gunder. “A mother with six children just contacted me and can’t make it to school every day. I’ve never had to feed six children, so I can’t imagine doing that.”
Another complication is mandatory social distancing, which prevents many organizations from distributing food the traditional way. Gunder says some of her volunteers were scared. Last Tuesday, Farm Share partnered with the school district to provide fresh produce, perishable goods and hygiene products to children and families.
The next distribution is scheduled for Friday, March 20, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Goulds Park at 11350 SW 216th St., St John.
The Riveras are hoped that their careful planning will help them overcome this crisis. A recent tax return should help, but with the possible loss of Jonathan’s job or the reduction in hours due to restaurant closings, they could be marginalized again.
“We have a huge pork shoulder and we’ll have enough pasta as long as we don’t eat a full box a day,” says Danielle. “We should be fine as long as it’s no longer than two weeks.”
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Zachary Fagenson became a restaurant critic for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach in 2012, before joining St John in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.