The coronavirus outbreak has caused stores to close, offices to transition to remote operations, and forced churches, restaurants, salons and schools to shut down to the public. While the virus itself has impacted more than 33,000 individuals in the U.S., COVID-19 has also resulted in some other undesirable side effects.

Children are some of the most touched by the recent school closures. With some breaks lasting three or more weeks, kids who rely on free or reduced-price meals to eat breakfast and lunch during the school days are now without meals.

Local school children are at home, trying to keep up with schoolwork remotely while navigating their academic goals and requirements. This new normal is daunting on its own, but with hungry bellies, nearly impossible.

Working together to keep children fed is just as important as it ever was while navigating through this coronavirus pandemic. This is why Seton Catholic Schools in Milwaukee has stepped up to provide free breakfast and lunch for students in need at each of their schools: Catholic East, Mary Queen of Saints, Northwest Catholic, Our Lady Queen of Peace, St. Catherine, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Rafael the Archangel, St Thomas Aquinas Academy and St. Roman. Out of a total enrollment of 2,500 students, 80 percent of them typically rely on the free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch program.

On March 18, Seton began distributing breakfast and lunch to anyone younger than 18 and in need of a meal. On the first day, they distributed 2,180 breakfasts and lunches across their 10 schools. By Friday, March 20, more than 7,000 meals had been distributed, said Seton Catholic Schools Communications Manager Gina Styer.

Stepping up to help the students was a no-brainer for the school system as they are committed to serving their students and families, even in times of emergency.

“It’s simply the right thing to do,” said Styer. “We have a commitment to help our students learn and you can’t learn when you’re hungry. These meals will help many of our students who rely on the free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch program.”

To get the word out to parents about the meal program, Seton is using Bright Arrow, their regular parent communication method, to send out texts, emails and voicemails. School staff are assisting in meal preparation and distribution.

The food comes from a variety of sources, Styer said.

“Five of our schools are distributing meals from Boys and Girls Club; their vendor is Milwaukee Center for Independence. One of our schools is located in West Allis and we are receiving food from the West Allis School District and this is how we normally provide meals to students at this school,” she said. “We are supplying the food for the remainder of the four schools. These schools are preparing food onsite and distributing meals. This is normal procedures for these four schools.

Breakfasts consist items such as cereal or a bagel or breakfast bar with fruit and milk. Lunch is generally a meat and cheese sandwich with fruit and milk. Schools preparing on-site serve items such as chicken wrap, meatloaf sandwiches, pasta salad or taco salad with fruit and vegetable and milk.

“These are all grab-and-go meals,” Styer said. “Keeping kids fed is crucial to keeping them learning. We also handed our first weekly set of academic packets. They will be handed out every Wednesday at each school.”

Families receiving the meals are appreciate and grateful, Styer said. She added that they are exploring multiple pick-ups for families who do not want to come every day to reduce exposure. For those wanting to help, Seton could use new grocery bags — plastic or paper for the distribution program. To donate bags for the program, contact Seton Catholic Schools at 414-831-8461.

“We are also exploring partnerships that could provide dinner to our students and weekend meals,” she said.