Teachers raise money for students on free and reduced lunch as schools close over coronavirus

The teachers are hoping to give $100 grocery gift cards to students in need.

March 12, 2020, 1:30 PM

Public school teachers in Arlington, Virginia, received instructions last Saturday on how the school district planned to handle teaching amid possible school closures over the coronivarus pandemic.

Three teachers at Yorktown High School in Arlington decided they wanted to help the district do even more on another aspect of possible school closures, what will happen to the thousands of students who rely on free and reduced meals at school.

"Kids who are on the free and reduced lunch program, they can get two meals a day from school, breakfast and lunch," Laurie Vena, a chemistry teacher at Yorktown High, told "Good Morning America." "For many of them, that might be the only two meals of the day that they get."

"For those students, the primary thing they need is food or they can’t learn anything from us," said Vena, who has taught at the school for the past 28 years. "Physics and chemistry are out the window when they’re hungry."

PHOTO: Deborah Waldron, left, and Laurie Vena, teachers at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, are raising money for students.
Deborah Waldron, left, and Laurie Vena, teachers at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, are raising money for students.

Vena brainstormed with two of her fellow teachers, Aaron Schuetz and Deborah Waldron, both physics teachers at Yorktown, and together the trio launched a GoFundMe account with the goal of raising enough money to give $100 grocery gift cards to each of the approximately 8,300 Arlington Public Schools students who receive free or reduced lunches.

Just two days after launching the GoFundMe effort, the teachers have raised just over $37,000 of their $830,000 goal.

"One person alone thinks what can I do, but I see how many people are donating and what they’re donating and I’m just floored and overwhelmed by the care we have for everyone," said Vena. "This is what we want our community to be so we need to show our kids that this is who we are."

Arlington Public Schools, which has more than 28,000 students in total, has not yet announced school closures. COVID-19 cases now top 1,300 in the United States.

Some activities like overnight field trips and non-essential events were canceled as of Thursday by the school district, which did not reply to a request for comment from ABC News.

PHOTO: Yorktown High School in Arlington, Va.
Yorktown High School in Arlington, Va.
Google Maps

If Arlington Public Schools remain open to students, the teachers say they plan to still donate grocery cards to students "as soon as possible." If they do not meet their $830,000 goal, they plan to work with school social workers and "prioritize gift cards to the most vulnerable kids in the neediest schools first," according to the GoFundMe page.

How to keep kids fed outside of school is a need school districts across the country are grappling with as they prepare for possible coronavirus-related school closings. Adding to the uncertainty is knowing how long some schools will need to remain closed.

Across the U.S., more than 20 million school lunches are distributed for free or at a reduced price each day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

PHOTO: School lunch.
Stock photo: School lunch.
Stock photo/Getty Images

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Tuesday announced some options for school districts to continue meal service during closures due to coronavirus, including waiving the requirement that students eat in group settings and allowing meals to be served at off-campus sites like churches and libraries.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives also included school lunch aid in their proposed coronavirus legislation. In addition to $1.3 billion in emergency food aid, the measure would allow states to provide food stamps to make up for lost school lunch benefits if their children are kept home from school, according to The Associated Press.

The legislation is slated for a vote in the House on Thursday, according to the AP.

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