A Revisit: AAPS Distributes More Than Half a Million Student Meals

In+March%2C+AAPS+had+delivered+around+40%2C000+meals.+Now%2C+that+number+has+increased+to+more+than+ten+times.

In March, AAPS had delivered around 40,000 meals. Now, that number has increased to more than ten times.

Several months after school closures due to Covid, the Ann Arbor Public Schools have distributed over 660,000 meals to more than 330,000 students and will continue their food services throughout quarantine. 

During the regular school year, Ann Arbor Public Schools regularly provided a free and reduced meal plan for students. Even during quarantine, the district has kept this going––although it looks a bit different. 

Nearly every Monday and Thursday starting at 11:30 a.m., anyone under the age of 18 can pick up two meals from one of the 22 AAPS food distribution sites, all of which distribute meals during the day, and 15 of which distribute additional meals in the evening. Following social distance guidelines, it is asked that students wear a mask when picking up their food and eat away from the distribution site. 

Students are not required to sign up for meals ahead of time. Director of Food Services Victoria Davis said that meal applications rolled over from last year, but there has been an increase in the number of families utilizing the food distribution.

“We know that before the pandemic, approximately 22% of AAPS students were eligible for free and reduced meals. We can guess that there has been a significant increase of students impacted by the pandemic,” said Lauren Grossman, Food Gatherers’ Communications Coordinator, a food distribution service. According to Feeding America, food insecurity for children in Washtenaw County is expected to rise by 101% by the end of 2020. 

Davis said that the district adheres to all nutritional guidelines and standards for Ann Arbor when considering the food they give out, purchases local produce and granola, and serves homemade muffins or cinnamon rolls weekly. Full menus include a variety of main courses, fruits and vegetables, milk, and sometimes a side. Vegetarian and allergy-friendly meals are also offered. 

Ann Arbor Public Schools has also partnered with Food Gatherers and Michigan Fresh to provide meals for adults with biweekly combo boxes containing meat, dairy, and produce, and a canned food box every other week. 

Meals are also delivered daily to the AAPS learning pods at Peace Neighborhood and Good Shepherd Church.

 “We want them to be able to have more of that home-cooked meal that they would receive if they were in school,” said dietician Kristin Stewart in a YouTube video about the food program in October. “We take the time to prepare some of those items and then get them out to the children.” 

Buses bring meals to families that aren’t able to make it to a distribution site, picking up distributions on Mondays and Thursdays. 

“It has played a key role and we could not have done this alone without their support,” said Davis in the video.

Davis did express concern in one aspect of the distribution: families cannot refuse any part of the meal.

 “I mean, fourteen cartons of milk in a bag for a week, that’s a lot of milk,” she said. “This can lead to a lot of waste.” 

She gave the suggestion that if families have extra food, they can leave it out for somebody else to take, or they can drop it off at a food bank drop-off site. 

The feedback from students and families has been very positive. 

“It’s been wonderful,” said an anonymous parent of four children. “I’m really impressed with the healthy options, and the chocolate milk and juice are a hit.” 

Davis says she has experienced this gratitude. “Everyone is very appreciative and so thankful. One of the allergy kids sends letters and pictures every week.” 

“I have five kids and we are living below the poverty line,” said another anonymous parent. “Normally, I have to go to five different food banks and one of my kids is gluten intolerant. Now, I have more time to be there with my kids without having to worry about food.” 

Food distribution will continue over winter break with seven days worth of food distributed on Monday, Dec.r 21 and again on Monday, Dec. 28. 

If there is inclement weather any time during the winter months that doesn’t allow for safe driving, the distribution will be moved to the next day. 

“You’re doing a tremendous amount of work here,” said Jeanice Swift to the food distribution volunteers and workers in the video. “I want you to know that our kids, our families, all of Ann Arbor appreciate you so much.”