This year’s National Breakfast Week will be a little different this year for many schools across due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of having physical activities in classrooms and buildings, many schools are finding ways to still celebrate the week, but virtually.

“We usually use National Breakfast Week as an opportunity to engage students in the building and to promote school breakfast, but it’s pretty difficult to do that right now as we don’t have our audience in the buildings anymore,” said materials manager at The School District of Philadelphia Elizabeth Keegan.

“We partnered with Eat Right Philly, which is part of the school district, to promote some activities that they’re running using items from our breakfast boxes,” she added. “We’re going to be working together on those promotions, which will include contests and prizes.”

In March 2020, the pandemic forced schools across the nation to close their doors, disrupting not only education but also the school meal access for 50.8 million students currently enrolled in U.S. public schools.

Like many schools across the region and country, the District has found ways to feed thousands of hungry students learning remotely while classrooms have been closed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Once we found out schools were closed we had to figure out what to do last minute,” Keegan said. “We initially packed our own food by getting individual wrapped items and doing a social distanced assembly line with our staff, but we were also thinking about ways to make things more efficient and safer for our staff.

“We worked with Preferred Meals, who do our satellite meals, and we came up with a box that they would package together and provide more of a variety of items because it would be frozen items,” she added. “By making the choice to go frozen, we could offer more variety and nutritious options.”

In April, the grab-and-go meal distribution program had 49 meal pickup sites. The meals included boxes with five breakfasts and five lunches.

“When we distribute it to our parents and students, it’s still frozen,” said manager of operations for the School District of Philadelphia Division of Food Services Lisa Norton. “By mid-summer, we changed the meals again to a seven-day box, which included seven breakfasts and seven lunches.”

There are currently 103 grab-and-go meal distribution sites across the city where students have a chance to pick up a total of 19 meals including fresh sandwiches, salads, and fruit. The meals are distributed every Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Since last March, the District has distributed 8 million meals.

“We also have a fresh five day dinner and that’s more on a first come first serve basis,” Norton said. “Everything that we’re doing is for our students.

“It’s all about during the pandemic and during the regular year, putting a meal in front of them that they want to eat and we know meets all the criteria is nutritious for them to eat,” she added. “That is something we will continue to do pandemic or not.”

Last week, School District of Philadelphia administrators along with city and teachers’ union leaders announced plans for pre-K through second-grade students to return to school buildings for in-person learning starting Monday.

Keegan said despite school buildings starting to reopen, the distribution sites will continue to operate.

“We’re still going to be running our distribution sites for all of our virtual students,” Keegan said. “The hybrid students will be split up into Hybrid A and B students. The A students will be in school on Monday and Tuesday.

“They’ll eat two days in school and have those meals to take home,” she added. “The B students will be in school on Thursday and Friday and on Friday the students will have meal boxes to take home.”

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