School closures amid COVID-19 concerns hinder food access for children

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- With 75 percent of Houston Independent School District children classified as "economically disadvantaged," schools across the city provide free breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner to thousands of students.

As HISD joins a growing number of school districts extending their spring break by another week, some families and children may be left struggling to find their next meal.

RELATED: Here's the full list of school closings

Last week, Houston ISD superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan said the district was considering how to make sure its students get meals in the event of long-term closures.

In Houston, there's been one confirmed case of COVID-19 and two presumptive positive cases. In Harris County, there's an additional two confirmed cases and four presumptive positive cases. The youngest patient in Houston is between 15 and 25 years old.

Dozens of districts across the Houston area have closed due to concerns over coronavirus, as officials advise residents against gathering closely in large crowds.

13 Investigates reached out to HISD for more details on its plan now that classes have been cancelled through the end of the month and will update this story once the district responds.

"A number of our students depend on us for two to three meals per day and so that's another area where we would be looking for support from our health department on how we might be able to continue to feed our students and their families in the event we were to need to close down our school district," Lathan said last week.

Unlike most districts which require students to apply to be a part of its free and reduced lunch program, Houston ISD qualifies for the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service Community Eligibility Provision and provides access to three healthy meals daily for every student, without the need for an application.

That means there are more than 210,000 students who can get free meals in Houston.

Statewide, more than 2.5 million students are on free or reduced lunches, although that number could be much higher because it doesn't include all of the students at Houston ISD who participate in its program.

INTERACTIVE: Use the map below to see how many students qualify for free and reduced lunch in your child's district.

On a mobile device? Click here.

In Spring ISD, 83 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunches; 48 percent at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD and 32 percent at Katy ISD, according to state data available through the Texas Education Agency. All three of those districts extended their spring breaks an additional week.

RELATED: School districts offer free meals during COVID-19 closures

More than 57,000 students at Aldine ISD qualify for free or reduced meals, according to state data. That's 86 percent of its student population. The district extended its spring break an additional week and said it will be providing free breakfast and lunch March 16 to 20 and on March 23. Click here for more information.

Deer Park ISD, which has 5,800 students who qualify for free or reduced lunches, is offering free breakfast and lunch to children 18 years and younger next week. Click here for information.

Klein ISD, which has 24,500 students eligible for free or reduced lunches, will also provide meals to all children. Click here for information about its program.

At Dickinson ISD, where 62 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced meals, the Food & Nutrition Services Department will provide free meals for all students starting Monday. "A packaged lunch and a breakfast meal for the next morning will be available for each student.Parents and students may drive-thru and pick up the meals March 16-20 from 11:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon.Food & Nutrition staff will have the meals set up in the drop-off/parking area on the Owens Drive side of Dickinson High School," according to the district.

The Houston Food Bank said it has been communicating with districts for weeks to plan for the possibility of long-term school closures.

Houston ISD announced Friday afternoon that it is partnering with the Houston Food Bank School Market program for a food distribution program at six area high schools: Chavez, Milby, Wisdom, Kashmere, Madison and Northside high schools.The distribution will take place in the parking lot an families will be required to sign in. Chavez High School is the only location offering food on Saturday, from 9 a.m. to noon at 8501 Howard Dr.

The following schools are distributing food Monday through Friday:
Milby High School, 9 a.m. to noon at1601 Broadway St.
Wisdom High School, 9 a.m. to noon at 6529 Beverly Hill
Kashmere High School, 1 to 4 p.m. at6900 Wileyvale Road
Madison High School, 1 to 4 p.m. at 13719 White Heather Dr.
Northside High School, 3 to 6 p.m. at1101 Quitman St.
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