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COVID-19 & School Meals around the World

Children rely on schools for far more than just education. As schools around the world cancel classes among growing COVID-19 fears, students who rely on school meals are left in a vulnerable situation. With over 1.5 billion students affected by school closures (as of March 25), many countries are struggling to ensure children continue to receive a nutritious meal. In many cases, school districts, nonprofits, businesses, and community groups are finding creative ways to ensure that school meals are still accessible to those who need them the most. 

“Global monitoring of school closures caused by COVID-19” map and current data courtesy of UNESCO. Please see the full interactive map at the link below.

What We're Seeing on the Ground

The situation is evolving daily, but here’s a quick look at school meal impacts and responses in the early days COVID-19 as a global pandemic:

  • In Japan, some junior high “nutrition teachers”  are using this as an opportunity to encourage pupils to cook simple but nutritious meals at home, using recipes created by an NGO that deals with nutrition in emergencies. Japan’s holistic nutrition and cooking education approach has long been admired as a model for school-based nutrition.

  • In Canada, the Breakfast Club of Canada has created an emergency fund to support community organizations that are providing services and meals to children and their families, applying processes and resources both in accordance with safety concerns, and where it is most needed.

  • In Sierra Leone, while schools are still in session, nonprofit partners supported by the US government’s ‘Food for Education’ program, like Catholic Relief Services,  have created contingency plans across their programs for students to get Take Home Rations in case of closure. 

  • In neighboring Liberia, the government has already made the switch to take home meals, an approach they used during Ebola alongside their neighbor Sierra Leone. Save the Children reported that Guatemala is also transitioning to take-home rations within their Food for Education school meal program.

  • In India, states are handling the disruption in a number of ways. Kerala started delivering ingredients that were going to be used in the Mid-Day Meals Scheme to students a few weeks back, often by their teachers. However, with the government imposing a nation-wide lockdown to combat Covid19, they are now asking states to either distribute grain, cooked food, or cash deposited into parent’s accounts to ensure children receive intended support.

  • In South Africa, more than 11 million children are out of school. With one of the highest rates of HIV infections in the world, it’s key to tamp down community spread for these vulnerable populations as much as possible. The Tiger Brands Foundation is currently working with the Department of Basic Education and Department of Social Development to identify food insecure families within the 101 schools they support to provide food support.

  • In China, school milk has gone high-tech and contactless. In partnership with Tetra-Laval,  not only do parents place orders for milk deliveries for their children, password protected transport ‘cabinets’ are enabling suppliers and delivery workers to eliminate face to face contact as food distribution occurs.
Are you a business, NGO, or community organization working to support disrupted school meal programs?
We want to hear from you too!

GCNF knows that partners are key to ensuring school meal programs are strong and durable, especially during times of crisis.  If your organization is actively supporting school meal programs, we’d welcome a conversation to learn about what you’re doing and how we can support. If your organization is looking for opportunities to support school meal programs, we’d like to connect you with our partners working on the ground. 

Please contact Rebecca Steelman (rebecca@gcnf.org) for more information and to share about your work.

Partner Resources

The following resources have been collected to support country governments and their partners as they address school feeding disruptions due to school closures. Do you have COVID-19 response resources to share with the global school meals network? Let us know at info@gcnf.org

Guides and Recommendations- Global

World Health Organization Coronavirus Resources

Latest news and resources from the World Health Organization. Country governments should take special note of the "Country & Technical Guidance" section that includes many guides for governments responding to the pandemic, organized by topic.

UNICEF: Key messages and actions for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) prevention and control in schools

Guidance from UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies intended to provide clear and actionable guidance for safe operations through the prevention, early detection and control of COVID-19 in schools and other educational facilities. The guidance, while specific to countries that have already confirmed the transmission of COVID-19, is relevant in all other contexts.

UNSCN: The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting people’s food environments: a resource list on Food Systems and Nutrition responses

Contributing to the coronavirus pandemic response, the UNSCN has compiled a list of available resources and key readings with a focus on nutrition and food systems. This list will be continually updated and expanded as more resources become available.

The World Bank Group and COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

A collection of resources and news from the World Bank Group outlining how they are coordinating with partners to accelerate the international response and support countries to manage the global pandemic.

CDG's Open-Access Database on Educational Responses to COVID-19

Created to track school meal policies for each country, outlining the range of innovative national and local policy solutions implemented by countries facing COVID-19

Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) COVID-19 Education Resources

A collection of resources to support the provision of education in places affected by COVID-19, with particular focus on distance learning, alternative education, e-learning, and psychosocial support.

IFPRI Resources and Analyses on COVID-19

IFPRI Guidelines in Response to the Spread of COVID-19

Guides and Recommendations- National

US CDC Guidance for Schools and Childcare Programs

Specific guidance for schools and programs that includes school closure decision tree.

US CDC Considerations for School Closure

Recommendations on school closure based on available science, reports from other countries, and consultation with school health experts.

UK Department for Education Free School Meals Guidance

Guidance for schools and local authorities on free school meals arrangements during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

USDA FNS Actions to Respond to COVID-19

More information about how USDA intends to use all available program flexibilities and contingencies to serve program participants across 15 nutrition programs.

National Farm to School Network (US)

The US-based National Farm to School Network is compiling resources related to COVID-19 that will be relevant to the farm to school and farm to early care and education community.

No Kid Hungry Responds

Information and resources for schools based in the United States.

News, Blogs, and Other Resources

World Bank Group Increases COVID-19 Response to $14 Billion to Help Sustain Economies, Protect Jobs

Focus on private sector and workers spearheaded by IFC to mitigate financial and economic impact of crisis.

With Schools Closed, Hundreds of Millions of Children Are Not Receiving School Meals

Written by: Artur Borkowski, Susannah Hares, and Ana Luiza Minardi

How to Minimize the Impact of Coronavirus on Food Security

Avoiding protectionism, monitoring prices and supporting the vulnerable through social safety nets can limit the impact of the outbreak

UN launches global humanitarian response plan to COVID-19 pandemic

UN launches USD2 billion global humanitarian response to fight COVID-19 in 51 countries across South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia

Coronavirus: Schools and charities working to keep children fed

Written by Daniel Wainwright & Rob England, BBC News

Coronavirus: school closures mean an increased risk of hunger for families around the world

Written by Lana Whittaker, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Do you have COVID-19 response resources to share with the global school meals network?
Let us know at info@gcnf.org.