Free meals are still being offered on weekdays to New York City's 1.1 million schoolchildren even though the city's 1,700 public schools are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, school officials said.
"Our commitment to everyone who wants a meal is they can get a meal," said city schools Chancellor Richard Carranza at a news conference Monday.
"At 449 sites across the city in every borough we served approximately 78,000 meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner today. We delivered 246 meals to our medically fragile students with our partners DoorDash," he said.
Three daily meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday are being given to children 18 and under at more than 400 sites between 7:30 am and 1:30 pm, officials said. Parents and guardians can pick them up with no registration, ID or other documentation. The meals must be taken from where they are being distributed because there is no place to eat them on site.
The meals change daily. On Monday, breakfast was Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, graham crackers, juice and milk. Lunch was sandwiches, black bean salad, canned fruit and milk.
On March 15, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio closed all public schools until at least April 20, but on Monday he said in a television interview that schools may not open for the rest of the school year.
"The likelihood we're at right now is that we lose the whole school year, which is really, really, deeply unfortunate," he said.
New York has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that as of Tuesday, New York City has 14,904 confirmed cases and more than 100 deaths. More than 3,200 people are hospitalized and 750 of those patients, or 23 percent, are in intensive care, he said.
Cases across the state are doubling about every three days, standing at 25,665 as of Tuesday with 210 deaths — 10 times the number of cases in California, Cuomo said.
Nationwide, at least 30 million children rely on free meals at public schools. More than 114,000 public and private schools have been closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to National Public Radio.
The Federal School Lunch Program offers no-cost or low-cost food and is the nation's second-largest anti-hunger program after food stamps.
In New York City, three-quarters of the 1.1 million public school children are at or below the poverty line, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. At least 1 in 10 are homeless.
Jennifer McLean, the CEO of City Harvest, the largest food rescue organization in New York, told China Daily:
"As the pandemic causes the city and the global economy to come to a halt, we're likely to see unemployment rise to levels never seen before. Even before the crisis, 2.5 million working-age New Yorkers were struggling to make ends meet, and 1 in 5 New York City children didn't know where their next meal was coming from."
In Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest school district, meals were being offered at 60 drive-thrus for parents.
Iowa, Minnesota and Florida among other states are also giving free meals at pickup spots. Lincoln Elementary School in Little Falls, Minnesota, is using bus drivers to deliver food to students. The stay-at-home order by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has led all but a few school districts in northwest Louisiana to halt student "grab and go meals" said officials, citing health risks to school staff.
In New York City, some private restaurants — which along with other nonessential businesses have been ordered closed by Cuomo — are also offering meals to children in the city while they study from home.
Ravi Derossi's East Village restaurant has been giving out free vegan lunches. And, Oaxaca Taqueria, a Mexican food chain, was donating lunch to children as of Monday at its 10 NYC locations.