As the Monadnock Region hunkers down to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19, area school districts and nonprofit groups are providing free meals to those in need.
There are 7,340 people in Cheshire County who are food insecure — meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from — according to data from the N.H. Food Bank.
And many of the area’s students rely on eating breakfast and lunch at schools, which Gov. Chris Sununu required to close until at least April.
“We recognize that this will be extremely difficult for most of our families and for our community as a whole,” wrote N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Superintendent Robert Malay in a letter to families and staff Saturday about the SAU’s plans to shift to remote learning.
Keene food services will have breakfast and lunch available to all SAU 29 students beginning Tuesday, according to a Facebook post from the SAU Sunday night.
Meals can be picked up at Franklin Elementary School — on Page Street behind the school — or in the back of Keene High School from 8:30 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday.
Students must be present to pick up meals, the Facebook post says.
In addition to Keene, SAU 29 covers Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland.
Malay added that school officials are working to create other remote locations for students who don’t have transportation to the pick-up sites in Keene.
Any questions on SAU 29's plan can call 357-9011.
The Monadnock Regional School District is offering free lunches to pick up starting Wednesday, according to Administrative Assistant Lillian Sutton, with breakfast to be added in the near future.
The pick-up sites are Troy Elementary School in Troy and Cutler Elementary School in Swanzey from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Sutton added the district is asking families to fill out a survey to get an accurate amount of meals prepared each day, at forms.gle/H9hXnK6MhxmsGx1w7.
In Fall Mountain Regional School District, meals will be distributed at locations in four towns starting Tuesday.
Jaca Hughes, the district’s food-service director, said the free meals are not limited to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, or even people who live in the district; anyone with a child under 18 can pick up breakfast and lunch, which will be handed out together.
The school district is also prepared to have bus drivers deliver meals to families who cannot get to a pick-up location, according to a letter to parents and staff from Superintendent Lori Landry. Those who wish to request delivery should contact their school’s principal.
To get an accurate count, the district is asking parents to fill out a short survey, available online at sau60.org.
The pick-up locations are Vilas Middle School in Alstead, Charlestown Middle School, North Charlestown Community School, North Walpole School and Walpole Elementary School from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.; and at the Acworth Village Store at 9 a.m. and the Acworth Town Hall at 9:30 a.m. Fall Mountain comprises those towns in addition to Langdon.
Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District is offering breakfast and lunch for all students In a time of turmoil, feeding the hungry a priority starting Thursday at 9 a.m. and continuing every weekday, according to spokesman Nick Handy. The meals can be picked up at either Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School or Rindge Memorial School.
The district is researching ways to have a wider distribution to families, Handy noted, which could potentially involve its bus company.
The Hinsdale School District plans to distribute meals at bus stops, school board Chairwoman Holly Kennedy said over the weekend.
And in the Winchester School District, the food-service program will begin again on March 23, according to school board Chairwoman Lindseigh Picard.
More details on the district’s plans will be communicated in the next few days, she said.
ConVal School District’s End 68 Hours of Hunger program will continue to run during the schools’ closure, according to Program Coordinator Linda Caracappa.
The program provides nourishing food to students who need it through the weekend. Each bag of food costs $10 and provides two breakfasts, two lunches and three dinners for one child.
SAU 1 Business Administrator Lori Schmidt said ConVal will be using its bus company to deliver breakfast and lunch to all families that want to participate.
Food pantries remain open
Most local food pantries have continued their services.
The Community Kitchen in Keene is keeping the same hours and offerings, according to Administrative Manager Peggy Higgins, but is limiting the number of people in the building at one time.
The kitchen and pantry’s hot-meals program — served weeknights from 5 p.m. to 6:20 p.m. — will serve only 25 people at once. But as of Monday, all other services are business as usual.
Sunday’s lunch from 11 a.m. to noon will also still be provided.
Higgins added it’s unclear if Sununu’s order Monday night restricting restaurants and bars to take-out only applies to The Community Kitchen. If it does, she said the kitchen’s hot-meals program is prepared to switch to take-out.
Sununu’s office did not respond to a request for clarity.
The pantry program, which requires user financial verification, is open Wednesdays, 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Thursdays, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Fall Mountain Food Shelf will bring food boxes to people’s vehicles, rather than have families pick the food off the shelves, according to Director Mary Lou Huffling.
The food shelf’s Friendly Meals program will also be halting, she added, but Meals on Wheels will continue its service on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Similarly, Joan's Food Pantry in Chesterfield will also bring food boxes to people's cars. The pantry will still be open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., according to Director Carole Vogeley.
The Antrim-Bennington Food Pantry, run through the Antrim Baptist Church, will still be open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. The pantry’s staff will bring the food to people in their cars, according to its website.
One organization — Peterborough Food Pantry — closed Monday, its website states, and is currently working to find other ways to distribute food in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Keene Serenity Center — which announced in a Facebook post Sunday night it will be discontinuing its in-person meetings and recovery services until April — will still offer its free community lunches outside the center at 34 Mechanic St.
The center’s staff will continue to answer the main line during business hours — Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — and peer-recovery coaches will be reaching out to their peers at scheduled times for phone sessions when needed, the post says.
Starting Tuesday, the kitchen staff will have bagged lunches available in front of the center from 11 a.m. to noon. Lunches will be offered Monday through Friday.
And across the river in Brattleboro, Groundworks Collaborative’s Foodworks food-shelf program moved to a food-delivery model Monday. While this is being communicated to the community, staff will be handing out prepared boxes of food for those arriving on site.
Those needing food can call Foodworks at 802-490-2412 or email ccolascione@groundworksVT.org to coordinate delivery.
A list of food pantries in and around the Monadnock Region is available at foodpantries.org/ci/nh-keene.
Sentinel staff writer Paul Cuno-Booth contributed to this report.
This article has been updated to correct information about food programs through SAU 29 and the Antrim-Bennington Food Pantry.