Valley school districts are doing the right thing by expanding the ways they offer food to students in a time when more and more students aren’t in school daily.

School officials were quickly able to mobilize in March when they were shuttered at the outset of the pandemic. Meals were provided, in most cases, within a few days. Most Valley districts set up pick-up times or drop-off locations for students to pick up breakfasts and lunches, filling a critical need.

With all districts offering an online option for students for those who remain more comfortable outside of the traditional classroom, feeding students remains a critical need. Not having students in school means the consistency of meals that comes with physically being in the school building has been removed as a safety net for many students.

It is a vital need in the Valley, especially during the ongoing pandemic. According to Feeding Pennsylvania, 64 of 67 counties are at least 13 percent food insecure, and 32 counties are at least 16.5 percent food insecure. More than 2 million Pennsylvanians, including 630,000 children, do not have reliable access to adequate, nutritious meals.

Three Valley school districts — Danville, Mount Carmel and Southern Columbia — have already shifted more students to remote learning through at least the end of this week, removing some students from classrooms.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued waivers in extending existing rule changes allowing greater flexibility to school districts in serving meals through the National School Lunch Program. The waivers allow schools to serve meals outside of mandated service times. They also allow meals to be served outside of school buildings and permit parents and guardians to pick the meals up for students.

Some Valley districts have processes in place, including weekly scheduled pickups and appointments set by parents. Other districts are continually reviewing the programs to ensure those who need food have timely and consistent access to it, making necessary changes.

“We’ve been able to successfully coordinate with every family that has been in need and continue to encourage families to reach out should a need arise,” Jonathan Hall, Food Service Supervisor at Warrior Run said. “Within our buildings, we have made some great efforts to streamline our service and take every reasonable precaution to ensure our students are getting healthy, delicious, and filling meals. The streamlining has allowed us to better focus our efforts on serving our students the best that we absolutely can through this tremendously difficult time.”

This difficult time isn’t going away any time soon, so it will be important for district officials to remain proactive in managing this critical program.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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