Louisiana public schools have shut down statewide to prevent the further spread of coronavirus — but that isn’t stopping local schools from providing the meals that many students rely on daily. School officials were able to unlock federal funding for summer meals and an increasing number of schools throughout the city will be able to provide breakfast and lunch to students. 

On Monday morning, parents and students picked up meals at Paul Habans Charter School, along with two weeks of lesson plans. It was evident that ‘social distancing’, or limiting interactions with others and maintaining space to prevent the virus’ spread, was on people’s minds.

Signs asked individuals to stay three to six feet apart and limited the number of people who could be in a certain area at one time. Families also had the option of drive-through meal pick-up. 

At one point, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: “It’s 10:35. All Habans staff should wash their hands.”

As of Monday afternoon, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards cited 132 of the novel coronavirus in the state. Numbers have risen sharply since the first case was announced one week ago. Two people have died in the state after contracting the virus, also known as COVID-19. 

Louisiana schools will be closed for at least one month. Across the nation, schools are closing and states are enforcing new restrictions on businesses. Across the globe, several countries have gone into weeks-long lockdowns and some national health systems have become overwhelmed. 

On Monday afternoon, Edwards announced he was closing all bars, casinos, and movie theaters and restricting restaurants to delivery, drive-through and take-out. 

NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. was onsite at Habans Monday. He praised Habans staff and educators citywide. 

“This is another example of how our students are our top priority, even in a crisis,” he said. 

“Next week we’ll have a more coordinated effort to make sure that the 44,000 students that we have across the city of New Orleans are able to access a nutritious breakfast and lunch each and every day.”

Habans also handed out curriculum to students for the next two weeks. Middle school students could check out a laptop if they needed one. 

Parent Fidel Garcia was there with his four kids, ranging between ages 6 and 11. They looked through a community donation area where the school was giving away extra supplies, such as tissue, diapers, books and snacks. 

“I definitely think it’s great, especially with all the shortages going on,” Garcia said, noting the long lines at grocery stores and that some families may not have had time to prepare. 

As people hummed past Habans principal Elisabeth LaMotte-Mitchell to pick up food, school work, and other items, she said she’s incredibly thankful for her staff and proud of them.

“Our staff is awesome, they just jumped into action,” she said, noting just hours after the Friday announcement staff had finished two-week work plans for more than half the school’s students.

Pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students have two-week work packets and middle school students have online lessons planned. 

Crystal Perry brought her three children to Habans Monday. She said, while some other parents didn’t have school supplies yet, Habans was on the ball. 

“Habans is on it with their packets,” she said. 

The meals were a nice surprise too, Perry told us.  “I didn’t really expect it but Habans always be looking out for us,” she said. 

LaMotte-Mitchell said Habans also set up a community store with extra toiletries the school had on hand, in addition to snacks and books for students. 

“That all went in less than an hour and a half, so we are looking for donations to be dropped off between 9 a.m. and 12,” she said. 

Staff from Crescent City Schools, the charter group that runs Habans, were also on site. CEO Kate Mehok said the school had the capacity to give out 2,000 meals each day and that food was being prepared throughout the morning so nothing would sit out too long. 

Across town in Mid-City, Morris Jeff Community School’s chief operations officer, Jared Frank, sat outside with cafeteria workers as parents drove through the bus drop off lane to pick up food. Frank said meal pick-ups had been “steady” throughout the morning.

A parent of three at Morris Jeff pulled up in a mini-van to pick up bagged lunches. Frank handed him three brown-bag breakfasts, three lunches and six cartons of milk. 

“Personally I think it’s probably the most wonderful thing ever and I hope it works out,” the father said.

Asked about balancing children out of school with work he said: “These are good questions that I’d be able to answer much better in a week. I have no idea how it’s going to go here after this week.”

A few minutes later, Bricolage Academy parent Megan Compton arrived with her daughter, who’s in first grade. The youngster worked hard to balance her two bag meals along with two school-size cartons of milk while Compton spoke with The Lens.

“Well, I’m in the service industry so my spa just closed today,” Compton said. 

She’ll be able to watch their daughter but income is a concern. Her husband works in maintenance at the Convention Center. 

“We’re pretty worried,” she told us.

Bricolage has given out two weeks of work, Compton said, and there’s also an online component for families. She said the school surveyed parents about computer and internet access.

“I can’t get the online stuff to work on my device,” she said. “That’d be really helpful if they can lend us a computer of some kind because we don’t have a computer and my device doesn’t seem to be working with their online stuff… But we’ll get by without it, too.”

Anyone who wants to donate to Habans’ community store can drop off food, toiletries, diapers, and wipes between 9 a.m. and noon each weekday. 

Lewis said by the end of the week a citywide meal distribution plan, which could include meal delivery by school bus, would be finalized. He said additional sites will open throughout this week and next week.

View school sites distributing food here. Students can pick up meals from any school site in the city. 

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...