With Ohio schools closing, foodbanks association calls for help to address hunger

    Stock image of a food pantry courtesy Hurlburt Field.

    Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, he has ordered that all kindergarten through 12th grade schools close for several weeks.

    The Ohio Association of Foodbanks is calling for federal, state, and public help for low-income families with children who will miss school lunches and parents who will lose wages.

    Beginning at the conclusion of the school day on Monday, March 16, all K-12 schools will close to students through Friday, April 3, DeWine ordered. This order includes all public, community, and private K-12 schools in the state, but does not apply to Ohio’s childcare system such as daycare centers and home-based childcare providers.

    DeWine also restricted gatherings of more than 100 people. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

    The Ohio Association of Foodbanks agreed with DeWine that the closure of K-12 schools and the restriction of public gatherings are the “lesser of two evils” necessary to stem this coronavirus pandemic.

    The association said that their network is prepared to respond as best they can, adjusting the way they distribute food to make pantries and hot meal programs safe for clients, volunteers, and staff.

    “We know we will be called on to step in to help as children miss out on school meals, and as their parents lose wages, and likely jobs, to stay home with them,” Executive Director Lisa Hamler-Fugitt said.

    “We can’t do it all alone. We need volunteers and partners. We especially need the partnership of federal nutrition programs,” she said, calling on Congress to authorize Pandemic SNAP benefits immediately to help low-income families with children who will miss out on free and reduced-price school meals. Such benefits were proposed Wednesday by Ohio U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Cleveland.

    “As of this moment, we do not have appropriations at the state or federal level for additional funding to procure more food. We are advocating for that assistance,” Hamler-Fugitt said.

    Many parents will miss three weeks of wages to stay home with their children, she said, adding that other workers will be forced to choose between missing wages by staying home when they’re sick or possibly infecting others at their jobs.

    “If you are healthy and able, we encourage you to respond in this time of great need. High school students, reach out to your foodbanks to volunteer,” she said. “Policymakers and philanthropists, we need your support to mitigate the burden of this crisis on vulnerable Ohioans.”

    A spokeswoman with the state Department of Education said Ohio has applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a waiver that would allow schools to consider to serve meals for students in a “non-congregate setting,” even if schools are closed.

    David C. DeWitt
    David C. DeWitt is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience covering Ohio politics and policy. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, The Athens NEWS and Plunderbund.com covering topics such as education, health care, crime and courts, poverty, government, business, labor, energy, environment and social issues. His work has also appeared in Government Executive, the Columbus Dispatch, Girlfriends magazine, Bleacher Report and the Ashtabula Star Beacon, among others.