School families flocking to schools, bus stops for free student meals in southwest Ohio

Area school parents by the thousands are making a daily stop at local schools and bus stops to pick up free student meals their children would normally get if schools were in session.

School districts in Butler and Warren County saw officials scramble after the state-ordered shut down of all K-12 schools due to coronavirus prevention measures earlier this week to cobble together plans, supplies and in some cases converted school buses to get food out to students who need it.

Explore MORE: Student meals: Area schools begin handouts as kids start extended time at home

Some districts, like the 16,500-student district Lakota Schools, built on their existing mobile summer-break meal program to expand food delivery, focusing on neighborhoods with higher concentrations of needy families.

Lakota, which has been on its previously scheduled spring break this week, will begin their student meal program on Monday.

Others, like the largely rural Ross Schools, are passing out a week’s supply of meals to school families who stop by the schools.

Middletown Schools handed out more than 4,300 meals Friday.

Lisa Short is among the 10,000 Hamilton school family members who starting this week making regular trips to her children’s local school building to pick up free meals.

“They (school staffers) package the breakfast and lunch meals really neat and I walk with the kids to the school or drive when it rains,” said Short.

“It gets us out of the house and it gives the kids something to look forward to each day. We get to see familiar faces and say hi to their teachers but at a safe distance.”

Besides handing out meals to parents – done just outside the main entrances of schools – Hamilton district staffers have also been distributing food at designated school bus stops to make it easier for families who can’t travel to school buildings.

Joni Copas, spokeswoman for the city schools, said the meal program is popular and growing.

“(Wednesday) was our first day of delivering free ‘to go’ lunches and breakfasts at 34 locations around our community as we traveled out into the neighborhoods to ensure our students receive healthy lunches and breakfasts,” said Copas.

“We served over 1,100 children and we commend the outstanding job by our food service and transportation staff.”

In the 10,000-student Fairfield Schools, officials averaged about 1,200 breakfasts and lunches each day.

“They’ve had a tremendous response from families who are coming to our schools to pick up meals. We also have a dedicated crew of volunteers who are delivering meals and other items to our families on the free and reduced lunch program. We are so grateful for these individuals and organizations who are stepping up to help our families,” said Gina Gentry-Fletcher, spokeswoman for Fairfield Schools.

Kings Food Service Director, Jennifer Arlinghaus, said the southern Warren County school system is seeing increasing numbers of school parents using the district’s meal program.

“The families have been incredibly thankful upon picking up their meals,” said Arlinghaus.

“I have had tears, continual remarks of thankfulness from the families, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude throughout. This has been a very heartwarming experience for me personally. There is a true need among our community at this time and the Kings Food Service Team have embraced this opportunity to help the community,” she said.

Ross Schools Superintendent Scott Gates, echoed that description in describing his school community’s collective volunteering to make sure needy students continue to be fed during the COVID-19 shut down.

“I am so pleased with the efforts of the entire district as we move through this unique time. It’s great to know our students are getting nutritional items for breakfast and lunch if needed,” said Gates.

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