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Local schools hand out more than 10k meals in first week

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This story has been corrected to reflect that Charlottesville City Schools has handed out 5,050 meals to 2,525 students.

The Charlottesville and Albemarle school divisions are looking for ways to increase access to their free meal services while schools are closed.

In the first four days of the service, which started March 16, Charlottesville handed out 5,050 meals and Albemarle gave out 5,200. Nearly 2,000 Charlottesville students and 4,200 Albemarle County students currently qualify for free or reduced-priced breakfast and lunch.

In Charlottesville, 2,525 students showed up to receive a meal and 2,600 did so in Albemarle.

Last week was the first in what now will be a months-long closure of public and private schools in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Volunteers in Charlottesville are helping to hand out meals Mondays and Wednesdays via five bus routes, as well as at six locations throughout the city, and children can pick up meals for multiple days.

Albemarle County is providing breakfasts and lunches from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in the parking lots of six schools: Albemarle, Monticello and Western Albemarle High schools; Sutherland and Walton Middle schools; and Woodbrook Elementary School.

Any child 18 and younger can receive a free meal, which includes milk, fruit and a warm or fresh item.

To find a site handing out free meals, text FOOD or COMIDA to 877-877.

The Albemarle school division plans to announce details this week about expanding access to the meal program “to ensure that none of our families are left out,” schools Superintendent Matt Haas said Monday.

Those who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals in Albemarle but cannot access the current sites should call (434) 295-0566.

Charlottesville adjusted its plans for meal delivery last week, adding the five bus routes. This week, the division is allowing students to take home multiple days’ worth of food. An adult doesn’t need to be present for a child to receive a meal.

Charlottesville’s current bus routes are listed at charlottesvilleschools.org/food.

Schools are providing meals through federal school lunch programs and have to follow federal requirements to receive reimbursement.

The Legal Aid Justice Center is encouraging school districts to think outside the box when it comes to expanding access to meal programs.

“Make sure you are giving food to people who need it,” said Mario Salas, at attorney with the center’s JustChildren Program.

Sales said Legal Aid has been talking with the Virginia Department of Education about its guidance to school systems on meals programs.

“The message is to distribute the food and worry about access first and reimbursement later,” Sales said.

Last week, VDOE’s Office of School Nutrition Programs released a set of recommended best practices such as adjusting meal service times to meet students’ needs and delivering meals directly to families.

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Katherine Knott is the K-12 education reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 422-7398, kknott@dailyprogress.com, or @knott_katherine on Twitter.

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