The spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has put a growing number of people out of work and Gov. Doug Ducey has extended school closures through at last April 10.
While these measures may slow the community spread of the virus, many families rely on school to provide free or economical breakfast and lunch for their children.
Local school districts in Pima County have stepped up to provide alternative options for those families.
Tucson Unified School District this week launched a grab-and-go meal program, with school buses driving 12 routes throughout the district and stopping at 113 locations dentified for optimal proximity to students' homes. The buses will stop between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. for 10 minutes at each location, where kids can come and get one free lunch and a free breakfast for the next day.
These meals are offered to all children 18 years old and younger, but they don't necessarily have to be a TUSD student. According to Federal Meal Program requirements, children must be present at the bus stop to receive meals. Meals cannot be distributed for additional children who are not present. A full list of bus stops and scheduled times is available at tusd1.org/GrabAndGo.
The Marana Unified School District is ramping up similar efforts with its Marana Cares Mobile program. Since 2015, the district has provided free breakfast and lunch to children in need during every summer, fall, winter and spring break. The program will now continue throughout the school closure, and will be supported by additional food services provided at several elementary schools.
"Marana Cares Mobile does not go to homes, it sets up at two locations that we've identified through community input are some of our highest need areas," said Tamara Crawley, the district's public relations director.
She said the experience will be slightly different this time around, in order to adhere to social distancing advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When families come to the mobile bus, no one will be allowed inside. Crawley said they used to allow children to eat their meals inside the refurbished school bus, but now they will be serving meals in pre-packaged to-go containers.
Crawley said they have served close to 10,500 meals through the Marana Mobile Cares program, and they're hoping to add another bus in the future.
"Nutrition is critical to a child's ability to learn and be successful," said MUSD Superintendent Dr. Doug Wilson in a prepared statement. This service allows us to meet those needs during times when students are not at school so they are better prepared to return to school ready to learn."
Like TUSD's program, children do not have to be an MUSD student in order to receive meals from the bus. The bus will come to two locations Monday through Friday through the duration of the closure.
At the southeast corner of Sandario Road and Anthony Drive, next to the Marana Congregation of Jehovah's Witness Church, a bus will be present between 11 a.m. and noon. At 16560 W. El Tiro Road, a bus will be present between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.
For those who have transportation to schools, grab-and-go meals are also available throughout the closure at the following locations:
Butterfield Elementary School (3400 W. Massingale Road); Estes Elementary School (11280 W. Grier Road); Picture Rocks Elementary (5875 N. Sanders Road); Quail Run Elementary (4600 W. Cortaro Farms Road) and Roadrunner Elementary (16651 W. Calle Carmella).
In the Amphitheater Public Schools district, the staff is providing free grab-and-go meals for students to pick up and take home with them every day for the duration of the school closure. They have arranged a drive-up system, so parents and guardians don't even have to leave their cars to receive the meals.
Families can walk or drive up to the front office of 12 different schools in the district and food service staff will be there Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to hand out meals.
The eligible schools are Amphitheater High (125 W. Yavapai Road); Amphitheater Middle/Prince Elementary (315 E. Prince Road); Canyon Del Oro High (25 W. Calle Concordia); Coronado K-8 (3401 E. Wilds Road); Donaldson Elementary (2040 W. Omar Drive); Holaway Elementary (3500 N. Cherry Avenue); Keeling Elementary (2837 N. Los Altos); La Cima Middle (5600 N. La Cañada Drive); Mesa Verde Elementary (1661 W. Sage Street); Nash Elementary (515 West Kelso Street); Rio Vista Elementary (1351 E. Limberlost Drive) and Lulu Walker Elementary (1750 West Roller Coaster Road).
Amphi's food services are also not limited to district students and are available to any person 18 years old or younger.
In the Catalina Foothills School District, all families with children seeking food services are encouraged to access grab-and-go meals at Flowing Wells district schools. Breakfast will be available for pick-up between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and lunch will be available from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Meals are available at the following schools: Centennial Elementary (2200 W. Wetmore Road); Homer Davis Elementary (4250 N. Romero Road); Walter Douglas Elementary (3302 N. Flowing Wells Road); J. Robert Hendricks Elementary (3400 W. Orange Grove Road); Laguna Elementary (5001 N. Shannon Road); Richardson Elementary (6901 N. Camino De La Tierra); Flowing Wells Junior High (4545 N. La Cholla Boulevard) and Flowing Wells High (3725 N. Flowing Wells Road).
The statewide school closure is set to last until April 10, but could be extended further if the coronavirus remains a serious danger to public health. Since the virus outbreak and community officials' responses to it are rapidly evolving, please visit your child's school district website for the most up-to-date information.