Every student got a taste of virtual learning during the pandemic. Whether public school or private school, kindergartener or high school senior, the implementation of virtual learning shook up the daily grade school routine we’ve all grown to know so well. A main component of this routine, lunchtime, did not make it out unscathed.
Virtual school brought light to food insecurity across the country, as school lunch programs, a main source of healthy food for many children, couldn’t reach remote learners. Many families who utilized the free and reduced-price lunch program were struggling to fill this meal at home.
Some families were given relief by the reinstatement of school lunch as students slowly returned to in person classes. However, many students remain enrolled in virtual school, and some have always been there through programs such as Virtual Academy.
“The only questions we ask are what district are you coming from and how many children are in virtual academy,” said Nicole Tyrrell, Planning and Partnerships Manager at The Open Door, referring to the new Pick and Pack program provided through The Open Door Pantry.
The Pick and Pack program is tailored to families with students enrolled in Virtual Academy. This self-shopping, school lunch substitute program was created to ensure that Virtual Academy students have access to healthy food options during the school week, and to alleviate the day-to-day financial strain of midday meal support for low-income families.
“We know that a lot of families in Virtual Academy don’t have access to [school] meals,” said Jason Viana, Executive Director of The Open Door. “We want to make sure that everyone has access to food.”
The Pick and Pack program is available to families of Virtual Academy students every Monday from 4-6 p.m. at Metcalf Middle School in Burnsville. Families come through the main front doors, check-in, and from there they pick from a variety of kid-friendly foods, packing up to a week’s worth of lunches.
The selection of food at the weekly Pick and Pack ranges from milk and fresh fruit to shelf-stable items such as canned vegetables and pre-packed meals. The main food groups – dairy, grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein items – are all available. There are even ready-to-go meals provided every week by community partners FamFare Kitchen and Valley Natural Foods.
“[If] you need food support we don’t make you prove anything. You come in, you need food, you’re going to get it,” said Viana.
If you have children enrolled in Virtual Academy and want to sign up for Pick and Pack updates and reminders, text LUNCH to 651-370-8095 OR simply head to Metcalf Middle School in Burnsville between 4-6 p.m. on Mondays. Nicole and The Open Door volunteers are there to help supply Virtual Academy families with fresh, healthy food to fuel students through the school week.