Supporting and feeding children remains priority amid COVID-19 outbreak

Charleston, W.Va. – As of today, the majority of West Virginia counties and school staff are continuing to provide meals for children according to the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE). As we enter week two of the novel coronavirus outbreak, schools remain closed, but the need to feed children remains.

Counties have devised meal pick-up and distribution schedules as part of their emergency preparedness plans. Although these plans may have changed since they were first implemented last week, most counties are continuing to feed children this week. 

State Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch sent a letter to superintendents on Sunday, March 22, 2020, to offer guidance on a variety of options available to meet the needs of children in their counties. This included staff and volunteer support as well as assistance from food vendors and the foodservice industry.

The Superintendent reminded counties to be cognizant of health and safety precautions for those working while adhering to proper social distancing and safety protocols. The goal has been and will be to meet the needs of children while protecting the health and safety of those working on the front lines. Additionally, last week the WVDE offered volunteers from its staff to travel to counties to assist in meal preparation and distribution. This option is still available for counties. 

Last week, the WVDE Office of Child Nutrition proposed counties begin to look at ways to offer multi-day meal packs. This would allow staff and volunteers to pack food for several days to alleviate the need to work on-site every day. This preparation could be done weekly.

The WVDE has been in communication with counties on a daily basis over the past week and continues to offer support to meet the needs of children in the ever-changing circumstances caused by COVID-19. Each county is working within very challenging conditions to make sure that meal prep teams are safe and large quantities of food are available.

“Let me be clear: my direction to our schools was always that children must be fed. Not feeding children was not and is not an option,” said West Virginia Governor Jim Justice. “Our Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch is doing an incredible job working with our counties to organize the preparation and delivery of almost 200,000 meals every day for West Virginia students,” he said. “In a letter yesterday to all 55 county superintendents, he proposed several ways to continue the programs while taking additional safety precautions. Kanawha County Schools should explore these alternate methods and resume meals as soon as possible,” Governor Justice said. “Our school cooks and bus drivers are like our schools’ first responders for children during this crisis because they are taking care of basic needs. We all need to take care of our kids and take the necessary precautions and be safe while providing these essential services.”

“This school closure is unlike anything we have experienced before,” said Superintendent Burch. “The WVDE will be working directly with Kanawha County Schools and any other county needing assistance to provide meals for our children. We know it’s a very heavy lift, and yet, our counties are finding ways to meet the needs of our students. We are asking county employees and other willing volunteers who are healthy and able to continue to take care of our children. West Virginians taking care of West Virginians is what we do best.”

For updated information on county meal distribution plans, please visit wvde.us/COVID19.

For more information, contact Christy Day at the West Virginia Department of Education Office of Communications at 304-558-2699 or Christy.Day@k12.wv.us.

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