School meal distributions to continue under stay-at-home order

K-12 food services considered part of ‘critical infrastructure’

Parents picked up breakfast and lunch meals for their children at Sibley School Monday

In the same hour that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday issued her stay-at-home executive order, the cars lined up in front of Sibley Elementary School showed one reason many families still need to leave home: to get food for their children. 

Schools like Sibley that are distributing pick-up meals for students are permitted to continue doing so, since K-12 food services are considered “critical infrastructure” under the order, Whitmer’s office said in a statement. All 20 school districts in Kent ISD have been offering free meals to families, many of whose children depend on the breakfasts and lunches served at their schools. 

“The governor deeply appreciates the vital work that our frontline school employees are doing every day to ensure that our kids have the food they need while the order is in effect,” her office said.

Acting on that guidance, local districts like GRPS will continue to meet families’ need to feed their children during the stay-at-home order of at least three weeks.

“We see this as an essential service to help support and sustain life,” said John Helmholdt, spokesman for Grand Rapids Public Schools. “We know that food and nutrition service is an essential need and that the public schools play a very important role in fulfilling that.”

However, schools, churches and other meal distribution sites must observe the social-distance guideline of staying at least 6 feet away from other people. Kentwood Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff said the district will “continue to follow the governor’s safety precautions.” Some districts are also delivering meals to students’ neighborhoods.  

Grand Rapids Public Schools interim Superintendent Ronald Gorman directs traffic at the drive-through in front of Sibley School

Grateful Families Line Up

At the Sibley School site, GRPS interim Superintendent Ronald Gorman directed drive-through traffic and reminded people to observe the 6-feet rule. Parents parked their cars, picked up meal bags laid out on tables and then drove away in orderly fashion, as officers directed cars stretched down Sibley Street NW.

All in all, nearly 4,200 meals were served at eight GRPS distribution sites Monday, up by 100 from the previous distribution day, Helmholdt said. Volunteers have seen “an outpouring of thanks and appreciation from parents and students as they drove up,” he said. 

“It’s clear on a daily basis (at the distribution sites) that the need is great, and that the families are grateful to have access to these types of services.”

Beginning this week, meals will be distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., with additional food provided to cover an additional day. Tuesday and Thursday distributions are discontinued. 

Some parents also picked up workbooks of optional academic enrichment materials the district was providing to help students keep learning while schools are closed. (Whitmer on Monday extended the shutdown until at least April 13.) Monday was the last day GRPS families could pick up the materials, and the district has suspended mailing materials to families in order to comply with Whitmer’s order only permitting workers necessary to sustain or protect life.  

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Online map of school food distribution sites

Vehicles lined up on Sibley Street NW as families came to collect meals for their children
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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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