Where to get free school lunches in the Bay Area
Stanford University students map where children can find them
By Leonardo Castañeda
Every day, thousands of children in the Bay Area depend on the free or reduced-price lunches at school to stave off hunger and stay focused on learning.
But the closures of schools throughout the state because of COVID-19 — which Gov. Gavin Newsom has said could last through the end of the school year — have caused chaos for low-income families with children who rely on those meals. To continue receiving state funding even as classes are shifted to online and take-home work, districts are required to keep making meals available to students.
To help, a group of Stanford University graduate and undergraduate students majoring in journalism, chemical engineering, education and epidemiology built a map so families can find their nearest school food distribution site throughout the Bay Area.
The map, which can be found online at bit.ly/SchoolLunch-BayArea, includes locations where students from a specific district can go for a meal, as well as places where anyone 18 and under is welcome, although the students behind the map recommend that people check a district’s websites for details before visiting a site in a district other than the one their child attends.
“I have seen a lot of how hunger affects kids, especially in low-income districts,” said Joyce Tagal, one of the participating students who is receiving master’s degrees in education and public policy whose classes have moved online since Stanford University shut down. “I think everyone in the education community was very worried about food closures.”
The students checked each county’s districts to see where they were distributing food and have adjusted information as locations and times have shifted. They said being able to work on the map has been an empowering experience in an otherwise stressful time.
“This situation, in particular, has the potential to make one feel powerless because the prevailing messaging from on high is the most important thing you can do is stay inside,” said Charlie Hoffs, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering. “It’s an opportunity to do meaningful work and remember there is work we can do from our laptops.”
The students are affiliated with Stanford’s Big Local News program, which has been working to make complex government data available to journalists, including data relevant to the coronavirus outbreak, as well as the university’s Data Challenge Lab program.
Other students who helped included journalism master’s de-
gree students AmyDiPierro and Rachel Oh, plus symbolic systems and economics major Stone Yang.
Besides helping connect families to needed food and resources, the students involved said that they hope people will be inspired to donate money or food — San Francisco Unified School District is possibly the only Bay Area districts currently accepting donations for its food program, something they hope more schools will adopt.
“Now more than any other time I remember, communities are taking account of what they have available and what they have to offer,” said Christopher LeBoa, a master’s student in the epidemiology program. “It’s also a time to remember the most vulnerable among us.”