MANSFIELD — With students home from school amidst the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ohio, a group of community members hope to answer the question of where those students will get their next meal this week.
From March 17 through March 20, school-aged children attending Mansfield City Schools may pick up a free brown bag lunch at one of five different locations during Operation: 1,000 Lunches. Lunches will be available on a first come, first serve bases from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The mission of the program lies directly in the name.
"For a lot of kids, these are the only meals they get," said organizer Lodema M'Poko. "They rely on their school lunch for primary sustenance. If you take that away because the schools are closed, you have a group of children who have to figure out what they're going to eat.
"If we could just do something and help as many as we can during this week with all the madness, we just want to add a little sunshine and help wherever we can."
On March 12, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the state's schools to close for at least three weeks following the end of the school day on March 16, due to continuing concerns about the COVID-19 virus. The order includes all public, community, and private K-12 schools in the state.
In wake of that announcement, M'Poko decided to take action. Along with her daughter Nia, her co-parent Darrell Smith, and local business owners Ahmad Fares and Fares Fares, she started contacting local businesses who might be interested in helping local students.
A thought turned into a brainstorming session in the tiny front office of the Lexington Ave Drive Thru one Saturday afternoon. The plan came quickly: distribute 1,000 lunches to students in need.
Brown bag lunches will be available in five different locations: Lexington Ave Drive Thru, M and S Drive Thru, Akua Hair Clinic and Salon, Diamond Street Car Wash, and the Catholic Charities parking lot.
Meal prep will be provided by Smitty's & Co. will include a sandwich, juice box, and bag of chips. Desserts will be donated by Buckeye Bakery and Duda's Desserts. Gott's Butcher Shoppe has also donated meat-cutting services and snacks.
M'Poko said the goal is to distribute 50 lunches per day at each location, until they run out of supplies. If monetary donations continue, the program may be able to scale past 1,000 lunches.
"Food access is an ongoing issue for children in the city of Mansfield," M'Poko said. "They're our babies, first and foremost."
In addition to Operation: 1,000 Lunches, Mansfield City Schools will distribute sack lunches along with the next day's sack breakfast to students on weekdays at two locations starting on Wednesday, March 18. Nutritionally balanced meals will be provided from 12 to 1 p.m. to students who arrive as pedestrians or in vehicles.
Sack lunches and breakfasts for children in preschool through sixth grade will be distributed at Malabar Intermediate School. Traffic will enter off West Cook Road then be directed out the rear entrance. Meals for students in grades seven through 12 will be distributed at the main entrance to Mansfield Senior High. The regular one-way traffic pattern will be maintained.
Families who have students enrolled at more than one site may pick up meals for all of them at either Malabar or Senior High.
Everyone will remain in their vehicles to receive sacked meals from food service staff, building administrators and security personnel. Per federal school lunch regulations, students must be present to receive a meal. No meals can be provided to anyone over 18.