Before the pandemic, school food service manager Donald Jarvis was responsible for supervising a handful of city schools’ nutrition programs, ensuring students’ meals were healthy, delicious and plentiful. Now schools are shuttered, but New York City kids still have to eat. That’s why NYC’s Department of Education set up a new grab-and-go program, which serves three free meals per day for anyone in need. “There are a bunch of students who’ve always relied on school to get their food,” Jarvis told the Downtown Alliance. “Now, you go to one of these sites, no questions asked, and you get the breakfast and lunch that you need.”
This has never been more important: One in eight New Yorkers cannot afford enough food. And that was before the pandemic. Some of New York City’s most vulnerable citizens are feeling extra pressure due to the sudden impacts of the COVID-19-related regulations: Soup kitchens that normally provide much-needed meals to the homeless and hungry are having to transition to grab-and-go models amid concerns about social distancing. That is, if they haven’t suspended operations altogether due to lack of volunteers.
That’s why this program is open to anyone who needs it. Breakfasts consist of staples like muffins, cheese sticks, milks and cereals; lunches include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, deli meats and fruit. Jarvis’s job is to ensure all the food served at Battery Park City School, where he’s currently stationed, is fresh, safe and ready to be served. “Right now, the job’s involved dealing with the change since the lockdown came into effect in mid-March,” he said. “It’s about Who’s going to get staffed where?, What meals are we making?, What about all the schools that are closed? Now that all these schools are closed, what’s going to spoil? It’s been a lot of things like that.”
It’s a lot of work, but Jarvis finds reassurance in his staff members, who have managed to swiftly adjust to the grab-and-go program. “Everyone has their own health to worry about,” he said, “but everyone hears the call.” Because the program is essential for vulnerable New Yorkers to keep from going hungry, his staff understands. “They put on their masks, serve the food. They’re the inspiration.”