School Kids

Through the end of this semester, DeSoto County Schools is planning to distribute nearly 200,000 meals to students learning from home — whether by choice or by quarantine.

DeSoto County Schools (DCS) announced on Tuesday that it would make meals available to virtual learners, students quarantined because of COVID-19 and children under 18 not enrolled in DeSoto County Schools on Saturdays through the end of the semester.

There are around 13,000 students enrolled in virtual learning through the county school district, and hundreds of students have been quarantined because of positive cases in classrooms.

The meals will include five breakfasts and five lunches. Students will receive all meals for the week on Saturdays. 

This distribution is a continuation of a decision the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made to offer free meals to all children through the summer — and now, through the fall. On Aug. 31, the USDA extended several flexibilities in policy that expanded the ways in which meals could be distributed to students.

“This unprecedented move will help ensure – no matter what the situation is on-the-ground – children have access to nutritious food as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Alex Hallmark, DCS director of child nutrition, said in an email.

DCS first offered the free meals for virtual students for pickup at their home schools, but parents had a difficult time getting the food because of traffic, work schedules and school locations. With the change in federal policy, parents can now get a week’s meals for their child at one time.

“I think in DeSoto County (food insecurity) is a hidden problem,” Hallmark said, noting that the pandemic has exacerbated the need for some families. “We have a big working population. It’s something that people are ashamed of so they don’t talk about it.”

The pickups will be from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at Horn Lake Intermediate School and Olive Branch Middle School, according to the announcement. The giveaway will start this Saturday and run through Dec. 19. Per federal regulations, children must be present at the pickup to receive the meals.

“We are excited to serve our community and are blessed to have hard working staff dedicating their Saturdays to reach these families!” Hallmark said in an email. 

After posting about the school giveaway, the DeSoto County School Facebook account also posted about another drive-thru food distribution program through the DeSoto County Dream Center, which will also be happening each Saturday.

This giveaway, which will distribute meat, produce and dairy products, will occur in the Horn Lake Middle School parking lot from 8:00-10:00 a.m. It is sponsored by the MS Crisis Center.

The DeSoto Dream Center, which has worked to support people in need throughout the coronavirus pandemic, has distributed over 21,000 boxes of food since the pandemic began, according to a post on their website. The group has also distributed over 3,000 care bags to health care workers and made over 500 masks to give away.

“Not only have we worked hard to be a blessing to so many, The Dream Center has been exponentially blessed with much-needed resources,” the post said. “More than 500 volunteers have come to serve with us for our special projects, daily operations and food distribution. There are several volunteers who have also stepped into consistent roles with our operations.”

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