bags containing food items coronavirus school closures

Bags containing pre-packaged food items were handed out to students at Forest Park High School Monday. Forest Park H.S. is one of 21 school sites in Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park handing out free meals to children and special needs individuals up to age 22 while schools are closed.

UPDATED: Prince William County schools are continuing to offer free to-go meals to students and children ages 18 and under during spring break, which is this week.

The school division has also added three new schools to its list of distribution sites: Saunders Middle, River Oaks and Potomac View elementary schools.

Meals are distributed from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Mondays through Fridays.

The school division has been handing out about 10,000 meals a day, school division officials said last week.

Parents do not have to bring their children with them to pick up meals, as was originally required by the USDA, which administers the meal program, school division officials say.

Parents or guardians are asked, however, to bring proof of student enrollment in the form of "student ID, report card, or other official school documentation with the child’s name printed on the document," according to an announcement on the school division's website.

Parents will also be asked to provide names of non-school-age or children those not enrolled in school, who are 18 or younger, to pick up the to-go meals, the announcement said.

The change was the result of a waiver Prince William County schools received from the Virginia Department of Education and the USDA after Del. Danica Roem, D-13th, and members of Virginia's congressional delegation urged USDA officials to change its rules regarding meal pickups to enable children with compromised immune systems to remain at home during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Packaged breakfasts and lunches are handed out together at all meal distribution sites.

Thursday, March 19: School division adds 2 meal distribution sites as demand grows amid ongoing coronavirus crisis

A growing demand among parents and children for free packaged breakfasts and lunches during the coronavirus crisis has prompted Prince William County schools to add two additional distribution sites in recent days: Coles and Yorkshire elementary schools. 

The new sites, both located in the Manassas area of Prince William County, were brought online Wednesday morning. Their additions mean Prince William County schools are now handing out the pre-packaged, to-go meals at 19 sites.

The school division is looking to expand even further, if possible, as sites have seen a “significant increase” in the number of people arriving to pick up the meals each morning, said Diana Gulotta, spokeswoman for Prince William County schools.

The school division has so far handed out about 7,000 meals, including 1,700 on Monday, 2,300 on Tuesday and more than 3,000 on Wednesday, Gulotta said.

As per U.S. Department of Agricultural rules, only children under the age of 18 qualify for the meals and must accompany their parents to pick them up, Gulotta said.

That’s posed a challenge for some parents for whom bringing their children is difficult or ill-advised amid the coronavirus crisis. People with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the disease are being asked to stay home during the ongoing pandemic.

School Board member Loree William (Woodbridge) said she has heard of a few parents having such challenges via social media in recent days but does not yet know how many children the rule has affected so far.

Gulotta said the school division had not received any notice of a waiver of the rule as of Wednesday night. The USDA provides funding for the meals and sets the rules for their distribution. 

On Monday, a steady stream of parents and children arrived at Forest Park High School to pick up the meals. Some came by car, while others by walked from nearby neighborhoods. 

They waited in line at the front door of the school before stepping into the vestibule, where two cafeteria workers were stationed. Two school resource officers  were present as well.

Parents with kids ranging in age from toddlers to teenagers received bags containing both breakfast and lunch items. Children were asked to choose between two kinds of cereal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Frosted Flakes, and two kinds of sandwiches: ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly.

Manassas and Manassas Park school divisions also began distributing to-go meals this week. (See box for times and locations)

Manassas, Manassas Park schools join Prince William in offering students meals to-go

Tuesday, March 17: Schools in the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park are joining Prince William schools in providing free to-go meals to children and special needs individuals up through age 21 during the four weeks school will be closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools in all three local school divisions are closed to students until Tuesday, April 14, which was to be the day students were to return from spring break.

To ensure students and children who rely on schools for meals have access to nutritious food during the closure, the school divisions are arranging for to-go packaged meals to be handed out each weekday, or on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Manassas Park, at 21 schools around the area.

In Prince William County, locations were selected based on the number and location of children who receive free- and reduced-price breakfasts, lunches and dinners at school.

Also, the general location of the school sites were considered, said Diana Gulotta, school division spokeswoman.

The meals are open, however, to any child under the age of 18 and any special needs individuals under the age of 22. Children and individuals do not need to be enrolled in public schools or qualify for free or reduced meals to receive meals.

Also, students do not have to go to their own schools to pick up meals, as not all schools are pick-up sites.

The school divisions ask that children be present when meals are picked up.

In Prince William: Meals will be served from the front doors of the schools between 9 and 10 a.m. on Mondays through Fridays, starting Monday, the school division announced Friday. 

Packaged breakfasts and lunches will be handed out together. 

In the City of Manassas, meals will be handed out from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on weekdays from selected schools. (See box)

In the City of Manassas Park, meals will be handed out on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 6 p.m. at Manassas Park Middle School.

Two packages of meals will be distributed on Tuesdays and three on Thursdays to limit the number of times parents need to pick up the meals, Manassas Park officials said on the school division website.

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