The kitchen at Avery Alexander Elementary School in Gentilly. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

Starting next week, every New Orleans public school student — regardless of the school they attend — will be allowed to pick up meals at any one of 19 different sites participating in a federal school lunch program, which in late August was extended through the end of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has left many students taking classes virtually at home, away from school cafeterias where they would normally get the free meals. 

School in New Orleans started remotely due to pandemic concerns, but over the last week the district allowed pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students to return to in-person class. However, the majority of New Orleans’ public school students continue to learn from home and roughly 38 percent of pre-k through fourth grade students opted to remain at home too. Older students could return to class mid-October if health data allows. 

In August, the United States Department of Agriculture extended a community school lunch program waiver through the end of the calendar year. This week, the district confirmed one-quarter of NOLA Public Schools will participate in it. 

“All schools are required to feed their currently enrolled students. However, 19 schools will ALSO offer meals to students not enrolled at their schools,” spokeswoman Dominique Ellis explained in an email.

That means students can pick up meals at a site closer to their house if their school happens to be across town.

Ellis said schools can select which waiver they use for their food program. 

“For the schools that select the community feeding option they will be allowed to provide any student with a breakfast and lunch, grab-and-go style meal,” Ellis explained.

That program will start Monday at 19 sites throughout the city. Families can pick up meals on Mondays and Wednesday mornings, between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.

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...