County schools to feed thousands of children

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Miami-Dade County Public Schools will undertake feeding thousands of students countywide who are out of school but eligible for free and reduced lunch, The Miami Times has learned Wednesday.

The district plans to reveal on Thursday how it will provide meals to students who would eat at least two meals and snacks at their respective schools but have not been able to do so since the system shuttered its doors Sept. 7 in preparation for Hurricane Irma.

The district would have to set up several sites across the county to feed about 70 percent of its 345,000 students living across 2,000 square miles, who are eligible for free or reduced lunch. It was unclear Wednesday how many of the eligible students actually use the program. A link to free or reduced meal app on the district’s web site was broken at press time. The district provides free breakfast to all students, regardless of income eligibility.

School Board Member Steve Gallon III raised the issue Tuesday night during an interview about a food distribution he hosted in Opa-locka, a part of his District 1, on Wednesday. He and volunteers distributed about 1,000 sandwiches, fruit and water but understood that many more in the county needed access to nutrition.

On Wednesday, Gallon said he was confident the school system would be able to feed the students, who are expected to return to school, Monday, Sept. 18.

“Understand this, we are the 4th largest district in the nation– one that I am proud to have spent the majority of my life in as a student, teacher, principal and district administrator,” said Gallon. “We have received numerous awards and accolades. However, our future legacy will not be defined by awards, but how, in the midst of tremendous challenge we rise to the occasion and did right by our most vulnerable children when they needed us most. I believe that time is now. And I believe the Board, superintendent and staff will figure this out and that failure to do so is not an option.”

Gallon, late Tuesday, sent a memo to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and board members, asking whether the district plans to feed students who are out of school while the school system readies itself after Hurricane Irma blew through South Florida Sunday.

Irma, initially a category 5 storm, was a collision course with South Florida, after devastating several Caribbean islands, including Antigua and Barbuda and the U.S. Virgin Islands. When the storm tracked to make landfall in Miami-Dade County, Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a mandatory evacuation of some 600,000 people, the largest evacuation order in its history. The county coordinated with the Red Cross and the school system to open 43 shelters that ended up housing about 31,000 humans and hundreds of pets. As of Tuesday, 500 people still occupied shelters.

Gallon said that the problem became more acute after families exited shelters because they left behind the opportunity to eat three meals per day.

Gallon shared what he called the “harsh realities that this devastation has caused to families and children, especially those living in poverty. And now that the shelters have been closed, some of the meals that were provided to those who reported to the shelters will cease.”

Gallon said in the memo, “I am inquiring as to the following:

1. Does the District have a plan to provide meals to eligible children?

2. Can select distribution sites be explored considering that Thursday will mark a week of students being out of school and possibly without a healthy meal/snack?

3. Can there be an exploration of donors/community partners to support such effort?

4. In that FEMA or NSLP may reimburse for such meals, can this be confirmed?

“The operational infrastructure and system of reimbursement for meals for eligible children positions M-DCPS as the best provider for this, especially when it comes to our children.

“Please review this matter and advise of its feasibility. This is clearly an issue for all poor children — from Homestead to County Line Road.”

School system spokeswoman Dasiy Gonzalez-Diego Wednesday morning said that she was aware of the memo. Several questions about how the distribution would be executed and the amount of students potentially affected went unanswered as of press time.

Gallon said he expects multiple sites to be involved.

Meamwhile, Miami-Dade County announced Wednesday that it will deliver breakfast, lunch and dinner to 2,700 seniors living in 13 public housing communities. The county also will deliver ice to 25 public housing communities.

County spokesman Mike Hernandez in a text said that residents should call 311 for more information.

The plan to offer food and ice to seniors and families impacted by Hurricane Irma is a reversal from Mayor Gimenez’s position Tuesday. He said the county was not planning to do any food distributions. Even requests from state Rep. Roy Hardemon who went to the Emergency Operations Center in Doral Tuesday went unanswered.