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Workers prepare meals for schoolchildren throughout much of South Louisiana at a kitchen at Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge.

With the fourth wave of coronavirus in Baton Rouge prompting last-minute shifts to virtual schooling, participating families are eligible to have a week’s worth of meal boxes delivered to their homes in lieu of what their children would have received at school.

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system on Friday announced that it is resuming home meal deliveries for virtual students. It’s also delivering meals, as it did last year, to interested families with children not currently attending after-school programs, which typically provide those same meals.

At its peak, the program, which continued through the summer, was delivering about 4,000 meals a week.

About 1,000 children in the school system are learning virtually at present. That’s a fivefold increase over the past two weeks, but far less than the 12,000-plus students who were learning strictly virtually last school year. And more than 20,000 students are eligible for the home-delivered after-school meals.

The school system is once again contracting with Baton Rouge-based Focus Foods to distribute these out-of-school meals. The deadline for signing for this week’s deliveries has been extended to 5 p.m. Monday.

Here is the address for the online signup form: https://focusfoods.formstack.com/forms/east_baton_rouge_form

Once registered, families will need to confirm each week that they plan to continue receiving meals.

Another group of students eligible to participate are those forced to quarantine at home due to either contracting or being exposed to the virus, at least for as long as they have to stay home. On Friday, the school system reported that nearly 1,000 individuals had to quarantine during the previous week, though some of those were school employees, not students.

In addition to home deliveries, Focus Foods will soon be handing out meal boxes at four locations. Eligible families can sign up for pickups in advance or can sign up on the spot if they qualify.

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Focus Start is setting up shop in the parking lots of those locations from 11:30 a.m to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Here are the four meal sites:

  • Glen Oaks Middle School, 5300 Monarch Ave.
  • Broadmoor Middle School, 1225 Sharp Road
  • St. Pius Catholic Church, 6380 Hooper Road.
  • Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 2250 Main St.

Children learning virtually will receive two boxes: a five-day box that covers breakfast and lunch, and a seven-day box with snacks and suppers for each day. The latter is strictly shelf-stable items, nothing frozen. The children not participating in after-school programs will receive just the second seven-day box.

Some of last year’s rules have changed.

“We’re kind of feeling our way through this,” said Nadine Mann, executive director of the child nutrition program for the school system.

For instance, Focus Foods can no longer leave meal boxes at your doorstep if you’re not home; someone has to be there to pick it up. If that is not workable, those families can get their meals at one of the four pick-up sites, she said.

To be eligible, families have to live within the boundaries of the parish school system and must be students in the school district. So residents of Baker, Central and Zachary are ineligible as well those attending private and other public, but non-district schools. Students at a handful of charter schools in the parish that get their meals via the parish school system are also eligible.

Signing up won’t affect families already receiving meal money via the state’s Pandemic-EBT program, Mann said.

“This will not impact PEBT,” she said. “It’s a separate funding source.”

Focus Foods is also supplying meal boxes to eligible families in Ascension, Lafayette, Livingston and St. Martin parishes. Ascension and Livingston are also doing home deliveries while Lafayette and St. Martin have set up pickup sites. Signup forms for all participating five parishes are on the company’s website: https://focusfoods.org/register/

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.