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Columbus Schools Give Out Free Meals For Kids During Coronavirus Closures

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Nicole Rasul
/
WOSU
Stanley Dickerson, Jr., a parent of children in the Columbus City School system, loads his car with grab-and-go meals collected for the children in his care from South 7-12 School on Monday, March 16, 2020.

With K-12 institutions across Ohio shuttered over the coronavirus, Columbus City Schools began offering free grab-and-go breakfast and lunch meals at 14 locations across the city Monday.

At South 7-12 School, a cafeteria crew in masks and gloves, and armed with hand sanitizer, were hard at work packing breakfast and lunch in to-go containers for families visiting the site.

“We’re just doing our best to still make sure the kids are still getting fed and given a variety of fruits and vegetables,” said Alexus Benvenutti, a cook at the school.

Benvenutti says that though there wasn't a huge influx of visitors for the first morning of the program, she expects it to pick up in the coming days.

As Benvenutti and Adam Warren, a fellow staff member, stand over boxes of apples wrapped in plastic and cartons of milk, a colleague brings take-out containers filled with pizza and vegetables to the table for a group coming through the doors.

“Everything is packaged and secured,” Benvenutti says. “We’re doing everything to try to keep all the germs away.”

Alexus Benvenutti and Adam Warren, staff working the feeding program at South 7-12 School. Benvenutti was wearing a mask and gloves as she was helping participants gather grab-and-go meals from the school's feeding program.
Credit Nicole Rasul / WOSU
Alexus Benvenutti and Adam Warren, staff working the feeding program at South 7-12 School. Benvenutti was wearing a mask and gloves as she was helping participants gather grab-and-go meals from the school's feeding program.

Participants enter the cafeteria through an external door, where they are greeted with a table with bottles of hand sanitizer. After collecting their meals, groups exit through a second set of doors nearby.

Stanley Dickerson, Jr. came to the cafeteria with five children in tow.

“It’s important because right now, going to grocery store is a hassle, people are rushing for food, fighting over food,” Dickerson said. “Them doing this is a big help, that way people ain't got to be in traffic or in the store for hours and hours, they can come here and get a little food.”

The program is available for anyone under 18. Sites are open from 8-9 a.m. and 11 a.m-1 p.m. Monday through Friday while the school system is closed. 

A Columbus City Schools spokesperson said that during the first section Monday, they served 301 boxed breakfasts and 61 boxed lunches total at all of the locations across the system. During the second section, 1,042 lunches and 536 breakfasts were taken by participants.

The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands. 
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. 
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.

Ohio's coronavirus call center is open to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The hotline number is 1-833-4-ASK-ODH or 1-833-427-5634.