Before school districts shuttered their doors this week, administrators were working with the state to provide breakfast and lunch options for students in the event of a prolonged closure.

As of Tuesday, food distribution sites were set up in the Benton Harbor, Bridgman, Coloma, Lakeshore, St. Joseph, South Haven and Watervliet communities in an effort to ensure there are no lapses in food security for students.

These meals, served under the program called the Unanticipated School Closure Summer Food Service Program, are available to all children at no cost. The food program helps children to not experience a lapse in food security, now that schools are closed at least through April 5.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, up to two meals per day may be served to all children ages 0-18. This includes students with disabilities ages 18-26, who are served by an active individual education program.

This program assists Michigan school districts and community partners to ensure kids receive nutritious meals during the school closure announced by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 12.

St. Joseph schools are allowing students to pick up food at Lincoln Elementary School from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every day of the work week. Drivers are asked to approach from the south side of the building on Lincoln School Road.

Superintendent Thomas Bruce said the St. Joseph school district has a 31 percent free or reduced lunch ratio among students. Bruce said plans to implement the food program began last week.

“We weren’t shut down yet, but we could see some of the writing on the wall,” Bruce said. “Well, you know the education piece comes after you feed people.”

The district set up one food distribution site at Lincoln Elementary because it was a central location. On Monday, Bruce said workers handed out 80 meals. However, he said the district was prepared to pass out 400 breakfast and lunch meals.

Since the program is being overseen by the state, Bruce said these meals are not just for St. Joseph families.

“We’re almost a subcontractor. We’re not allowed to ask if they are a free or reduced-lunch family,” Bruce said. “We only ask, ‘How many do you need?’ We keep track and submit that to the state and they reimburse us.”

Bruce said the district has the capability to continue these daily food distribution sites through the end of the school year.

“I’m receiving emails from community leaders and teachers asking if they can help. Right now, we’re collecting names and starting small,” Bruce said. “Today we’re looking at helping families who cannot get there on their own. It’s a fluid situation. It feels like something is changing every four hours.”

Making it work

For Benton Harbor Area Schools, breakfast is available from 8:30-10:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at eight locations. Lunch is also available from 3-5 p.m. on the Boys & Girls Club Teen Center and Youth Campus.

Bridgman Public Schools will make breakfast and lunch available for pickup from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Sundays and Wednesdays at three locations.

For Coloma Community Schools, bus drivers are delivering food to students who normally ride the bus at their normal stops on Mondays and Thursdays. Students who drive or are dropped off to school may pick up their meals in the Coloma parking lot from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays.

Lakeshore Public Schools will have sack lunches and breakfast available at 11:30 a.m. across four locations.

In South Haven, breakfast and lunch are being delivered for all students at several locations starting Tuesday.

In the Watervliet region, breakfast is available from 8:30-9:15 a.m. and lunch from 12:30-1:15 p.m. across nine locations.

The Michigan Department of Education has created an online map for families to find locations where meals are being provided during this period of school closure. The map can be found at www.mcgi.state.mi.us/school nutrition, and will be updated twice each day during the closure period.

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski