School districts and Foodbank provide services amid COVID-19 closures

With nearly all students normally receiving free- or reduced-price meals at school, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) committed to continue providing free meals in the face of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department had confirmed two cases of the coronavirus in North County as of March 17.

click to enlarge School districts and Foodbank provide services amid COVID-19 closures
FOLLOWING PROTOCAL: SBC Foodbank volunteers use gloves and practice social distancing while packing bags of healthy food. In response to school closures, the Foodbank will soon be handing out groceries at the same distribution sites as the free sack meals.

“No child that wanted or needed a meal will go hungry today,” Maggie White, SMBSD public information officer, told the Sun on March 16. 

White said beginning that day, all schools in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District—which serves children from kindergarten to eighth grade—had sack lunches available at all campuses. By March 18, White said both breakfast and lunch were expected to be offered.

“It didn’t matter if it was a preschooler or a high schooler. Any child age 0 to 18 that came to a school site will get a free meal today and tomorrow,” White said on March 16. “They were running sacks lunches to people’s cars: Our staff was out there really giving it their best effort.”

White said the school district is also working quickly to ensure that students who typically take the bus to school—particularly those who live far from their campus—will have an accessible way to obtain food amid the countywide school closures. 

“Because those students are further away, we will have a distribution effort through bus stops,” White said. 

SMBSD’s efforts are not going unmatched: school districts throughout Santa Barbara County are coming up with different plans to meet the nutritional needs of their students, according to the Santa Barbara County Education Office. 

The Foodbank of Santa Barbara County will also be involved with school food distribution efforts, according to Foodbank Marketing Communications Manager Judith Smith-Meyer.

“We are working collaboratively with school districts on a couple fronts,” Smith-Meyer told the Sun. “We are concerned about the children’s meals as well as the ability to feed them at home not during school hours.”

To combat after-school-hours food insecurity, the Foodbank is finalizing a plan to provide bags of healthy, fresh groceries to families who come to get the school meals. Smith-Meyer said these distribution efforts will likely begin at the start of next week.

SMBSD is also working to ensure that learning continues outside the classroom, which will be the case until at least April 3. In addition to handing out basic supplies like pencils and erasers, staff members are converting classroom laptops to make them accessible for students to take, use, and charge at home, White said. 

Another concern facing students and their families is finding child care during normal school hours. First 5 Santa Barbara County Executive Director Wendy Sims-Moten said the county doesn’t necessarily need more child care capacity, but rather should look to creative solutions to use the capacity that already exists. 

“Now that the schools are closed, we have to figure out how to use this capacity in more creative ways,” Sims-Moten told the Sun. “Employers might need to be more flexible with their work-from-home policies. We need to take full advantage of our resources.”

Sims-Moten said that local organizations such as Children’s Resource and Referral of Santa Barbara County and the Santa Barbara County Child Care Planning Council can help direct parents and guardians that are struggling to find care.

“This won’t be the last place and space that we will have the challenge of getting creative, we need to make this a part of our planning,” Sims-Moten said. “We need to make it part of our systematic care.”

On March 16, Santa Barbara County held a press conference to address the spread of coronavirus in the county. 

As of the press conference, five Isla Vista individuals who were potentially exposed to the virus were under quarantine, and the county was “monitoring their progress [and] health status,” county Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said at the press conference.

The day after the press conference, March 17, there was a second confirmed case in Santa Barbara County, according to a public health department press release. The infected individual was known to have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, but was not thought to have been in contact with the county’s first confirmed case, the press release stated.

“Even if you are young or otherwise healthy, you are at risk and your activities can increase the risk for others,” 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart said at the press conference on March 16. “It is critical that you do your part to stop the spread of the coronavirus.”

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