Lines of cars stretched for blocks around five Atlanta Public Schools facilities on Saturday as families sheltering in place from the coronavirus pandemic scrambled for food before the system’s spring break holidays.
Atlanta Public Schools’ emergency meal distribution sites were swamped Saturday, with all five locations running out of food after less than two hours.
The school system, which is closed through April 10, will have no food distribution over the break, offered families a week’s worth of food at Saturday’s pickup sites. APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said long lines were waiting when they opened at 9 a.m.
“It’s been a massive demand,” she said. “We knew people would come and we’d distribute all the food. We didn’t know how fast it would happen.”
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The school system and partners, including the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB) and Goodr, have delivered meals to food-insecure families since schools were closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
After initially offering meals to students’ families, the meal deliveries were broadened to anyone in the city in need, Carstarphen said.
Carstarphen said drivers for APS were inundated with people seeking help at bus stop deliveries. She said APS has applied for Georgia National Guard assistance in distributing and securing the food.
“The level of desperation has started to mount,” she said Saturday.
Carstarphen said the school system has become the city’s single largest point of meal distribution. An increase in food insecurity within the Atlanta area has highlighted the need for a broader strategy beyond APS to combat the crisis, Carstarphen said.
APS and ACFB provided 80,000 pounds of food Saturday, or the equivalent of 60,000 meals, Carstarphen said via Twitter.
APS’ deliveries to school bus pickup locations will resume on Mondays after spring break, starting April 13. Food also will be available for pickup at 10 APS facilities on Mondays starting April 13.
Carstarphen said the pandemic is exacerbating issues of food insecurity and income inequality, where Atlanta ranks at the bottom of cities nationally.
Like many urban school systems, APS has a high rate of students who are eligible for reduced or free lunches, a common metric for poverty.
Despite efforts to get technology into the hands of kids while they are distance-learning, Carstarphen said she fears the pandemic could further set back kids already hindered by issues of generational poverty.
“It just demonstrates in the rawest way how fragile they are and if you don’t have a system in this city to protect and support them, they have nothing,” she said.
Kyle Waide, CEO of ACFB, said his nonprofit has seen a spike in demand: Over the past two weeks, the food bank sourced 4 million pounds of food, up about 30 percent over normal demand.
“People are really experiencing a lot of challenges as a result of the pandemic and all the economic fallout from it,” he said. “More and more people need help getting food.”
Grocers, who make up the food bank’s largest donors, have been unable to donate as much food as they typically do, because runs on stores have cleared shelves.
That’s led to the food bank buying about five times more food than it typically does to keep up with demand, increasing the nonprofit’s costs.
“It’s really hard to know exactly how high this is going to go. It is still evolving,” he said. “Just as our public health crisis hasn’t reached the peak yet, we haven’t reached the peak of the human crisis we’re facing.”
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