Schools provide children with the opportunity to learn and develop essential skills, and for many children, a chance to eat nutritious foods. For our most vulnerable children, school meals are a reliable meal source and provide a vital source of nourishment, playing a central role in combatting childhood food insecurity.
Since March, schools throughout the nation have shuttered their classrooms and cafeterias to slow the spread of COVID-19. Although sheltering in place is important to keep communities safe, school closures remove an essential safety net for children who rely on free and reduced-cost school breakfasts and lunches as their primary source of nourishment. Collaboration is needed at all levels to ensure all children haveaccess to nutritious foods, especially milk, vegetables, fruits and whole grains, which is important for their optimal growth and development, academic success and long-term health.
Connecting Families to Meals and Other Resources
School communities in California and throughout the nation have innovated how they connect students with healthy meals, quickly establishing drive-thru service at school sites with the highest need. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued nationwide waivers for child nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch Program and the Summer Food Service Program, temporarily loosening restrictions on how meals are served to support local efforts to feed students.
In California, Dairy Council of California partnered with the California Milk Processor Board to launch HealthyEating.org/SchoolMeals as part of a statewide public awareness campaign to help families find school meal program sites near them. The food access campaign is supported by State Senator Dr. Richard Pan, California Association of Food Banks, school districts and local wellness collaboratives throughout the state.
HealthyEating.org/SchoolMeals is a dedicated landing page that comprehensively aggregates participating school meal service sites throughout the state. The landing page focuses on school meal service sites but also provides information to support families, including links to locate nearby food banks and free online nutrition resources to support distance learning. Also available in Spanish, the landing pages have supported 413,000 site visits since their launch in late March, including 371,000 unique views, proving they are a valued resource to California communities.
Dairy Council of California is also using technology and innovation to help students learn while schools are closed. In partnership with the California Milk Advisory Board, students can now take part in Farm to You Virtual Field Trips where they can learn about dairy farming, including how milk and dairy foods are produced and the nutritional benefits of dairy foods. Dairy Council of California is also offering a roundup of free online nutrition resources, including games, activities and curriculum, as well as a variety of resources to teach agricultural literacy at home.
An Opportunity to Make a Difference
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges that affect everyone, and while these are trying times, there is also opportunity to make a difference and create solutions to address these challenges. Policy makers and leaders are looking to experts in ag, health and food access to help adopt innovative approaches to keep communities healthy. At Dairy Council of California, we are committed to doing our part to supporting children, families and communities and keeping them healthy by adopting innovative and creative approaches to support food access and distance learning. We are also collaborating with industry partners to ensure nutrition and agriculture’s role in nourishing communities is top of mind, and pursuing multi-disciplinary partnerships at all levels to extend our reach.
The new environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic has also created opportunities to re-affirm the vital role agriculture plays in supporting community health, and we invite collaboration from all agriculture partners. We believe that through leadership, collaboration and ongoing support to provide communities with nourishment, resources and information, we can emerge from the pandemic strong and intact.
Tammy Anderson-Wise is the CEO of the Dairy Council of California.
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