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Little Rock, in partnership with several organizations, will continue and expand through the summer the "grab-and-go" meal program that it started in March because of coronavirus-related school closures.

Beginning Monday, the city will add about a dozen meal distribution sites to the operation. Jay Barth, the city's chief education officer, said the summer program is a combination of what the city started doing March 14 because of the coronavirus and the Be Mighty program, a grant-funded feeding initiative that kicked off in the summer of 2019.

Barth said it was possible to continue the program beyond the school year because of the involvement of the Clinton Foundation, the nonprofit established by former President Bill Clinton; and World Central Kitchen, an organization founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres that before the coronavirus provided meals after natural disasters.

Other partners in summer feeding include the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, the Arkansas Foodbank, the Central Arkansas Library System, Club Eco Kids, ECO Kids, Equal Heart, Fab 44, FEED First USA, GoFresh Produce, the Little Rock School District, the Pulaski County Special School District and Our House, according to a news release from the city.

The program also relies on volunteers to package and distribute meals.

Lunch, "next-day" breakfast and dinner will be provided at the various sites.

Barth said providing meals during the public health crisis is the most important part of meeting kids' needs in his role coordinating education initiatives for the city. More families are experiencing financial instability because of the pandemic, and all public schools in Pulaski County -- where some children might receive their only weekday meals -- closed in mid-March.

"It's just not going to be a normal summer," Barth said. "We know the fall will not be normal, but how abnormal is the question, and there's a big continuum there."

The program already has provided hundreds of thousands of meals to students and their families, as well as some senior citizens who lost access to feeding programs because of the pandemic and students in rural locations who couldn't conveniently access feeding sites. The number of meals served topped a quarter of a million in early May.

The locations and hours vary week to week, but lunches and breakfasts were provided at about 15 sites and dinners were provided by about 25 sites from March 14 to this week.

Ward 3 City Director Kathy Webb, who is also executive director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, praised the program during the city board's policy discussion Tuesday evening. Webb said she was glad Little Rock had found a way to feed children when schools closed -- something not every city has found a way to do.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

An interactive map of meal site locations can be found at littlerock.gov/covid19. It includes sites outside the city in Pulaski County.

Those receiving food are advised to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before picking up the meals and to keep at least six feet between themselves and others.

Metro on 05/27/2020

Print Headline: LR, partners to continue with meals program

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