Cafeteria staff in a Laredo school kitchen prep meals while wearing masks, gloves, hairnets and aprons.

Coronavirus Response: “First Responders for Education”

From border towns to the home of the Alamo, Texans are working to feed hungry children affected by the coronavirus crisis.

1 in 4 kids may face hunger because of the coronavirus, but people like Jenny Arredondo see the faces behind these numbers every day. She and her nutrition services team at the San Antonio Independent School District sprung into action to start feeding kids in the community when schools closed.

A food nutrition staff member wearing gloves and a mask carries a tray of meals.

She knew that, for many kids, the cafeteria often represents the only daily opportunity for food.

“A little girl was handed her bag of food at one of our bus stops, and it's like somebody gave her a million bucks,” she recalled of their recent meal deliveries. “We're here to feed the kids. But talk about a very sobering moment to know you're feeding kids who otherwise wouldn't have it at all.”

More than 150 miles south on the U.S.-Mexico border, Robert Cuellar and his team at the Laredo Independent School District are witnessing much of the same at their free meals sites throughout the community.

“A dad came on his bike with his son, crying. He said, ‘Gracias. Thank you. You don't realize how difficult it has been for us. I lost my job, and we're not even from this school, but you all accepted us,’” Cuellar shared.

A father and son give thumbs up as they leave a meals site on their bike with a meal bag.

High levels of poverty exist in both San Antonio and Laredo, and the Hispanic populations there have been hit particularly hard by the crisis. In fact, Cuellar says that Hispanic students represent more than 99% of his school district, with more than 96% of all students experiencing financial difficulties.

What’s more, a Washington Post-Ipsos poll recently reported that Hispanics were more than twice as likely to have lost their jobs due to the crisis – and Arredondo is seeing the impacts of that.

“The need was there before, but this situation has amplified all of those needs,” she said. “To hear parents talk and see kids excited about receiving a bag of food, how could we not want to continue, make it better and reach more families?”

To that end, Arredondo’s team opened 29 meals sites and 65 bus delivery routes across San Antonio to reach any and all kids who need food. They’re serving some 30,000 meals a day on average.

Meanwhile, Cuellar and his crew have served more than 517,000 meals at over 25 school sites across the town since mid-March, when the crisis closed schools.

For Cuellar, the experience of feeding these kids is personal.

“I look at each child as if they are my own. We need to give them the best. We are talking about hungry families, hungry children,” he said. “It is mission possible. Rain or shine, we serve.”

He recently dressed as Captain America to celebrate his staff and excite the children who come by car, foot or bike for meals. Whether in the classroom, at home or even over the summer, he knows that a healthy meal is the key to unlocking a child’s potential, helping them learn, grow and just be kids.

The Laredo nutrition team are dressed as superheroes.

“Our staff are first responders for hunger. Here are the superheroes without a cape. They are the ones with aprons, with love,” he said. “They are the first responders for education, for the thinking of children.”

We are grateful for Cuellar and Arredondo showing up for the kids they serve. They have come face to face with the crisis and understand the needs of kids.

“Sometimes people see statistics on a sheet of paper. I see them in real life,” Arredondo said. “I've seen kids that are physically hungry, that will tell you, ‘I do not have food at home.’ The problem is extremely real, especially in my community. So any additional assistance that we get, I will always make sure it goes to the best use possible.”

Join us in sending a gratitude message to Jenny Arredondo and other heroes.

A car window has thank you notes written on it from a family. "Thank you for my food."