Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Overview: The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is offering free meals to all children under the age of 18 who live in San Francisco, regardless of whether or not they are enrolled in SFUSD schools.
Location: San Francisco, California
Population: 0.9 million
Food policy category: Food security, nutrition
Program goals: To reduce hunger among children.
How it works: Parents need to provide their children’s name and birthdate in order to receive a grab-and-go card that allows them to pick up free meals. The child does not need to be present at the time of pick-up.
Eighteen distribution sites are open across the city on two days per week. On Tuesdays, these sites are open to SFUSD students and their siblings only. On Thursdays, any child under 18 may receive meals.
Each day, the distribution sites provide two days’ worth of prepared meals per child, in addition to snacks, fruit, vegetables, and milk.
Sites are closed on December 17, and instead will be open on Friday, December 18. All children will receive seven days’ worth of meals on December 18 to make up for the holiday closure from December 21 through January 5.
Progress to date: SFUSD has been providing free meals to enrolled students since schools closed due to COVID-19 in March. In August, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) authorized school districts to provide meals for all children in their districts, regardless of school enrollment status or free- or reduced-price lunch program enrollment, through December. In October, the USDA expanded the child nutrition waivers through the end of the 2020-2021 school year. Before they were able to expand their program, however, the SFUSD had to spend the last few months organizing staffing and facilities to accommodate and ensure safe delivery of meals to all children. As of December 3, the grab-and-go meals program is also serving children who are not enrolled in SFUSD schools.
Why it is important: More than 22 million children rely on free- and reduced-price school meals during the school year. School closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic would have left these students without food to eat if other accommodations had not been made. Moreover, 15 percent of all Americans lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19, and 46 percent of low-income Americans reported having trouble paying bills since the pandemic hit.
The combination of school closures and job losses has made it difficult for many families to keep food on the table. Forty percent of Americans have experienced food insecurity for the first time during the pandemic, and a Feeding America report estimates that 50 million Americans, including 17 million children, will be food insecure by the end of 2020.
Federally funded meals for children are necessary to ensure that kids do not go hungry during this difficult time and to help struggling families save money on food so they can pay other bills and medical expenses.
Program/Policy initiated: The program was expanded to include all children in the city on December 3, 2020.
Point of contact:
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Vincent Matthews
Phone: (415) 241-6121
Similar practices: The USDA has extended food waivers to provide free meals for children nationwide. An interactive map is available to locate distribution sites in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
Evaluation: Dr. Vincent Matthews reported that SFUSD has provided 4 million meals to children in San Francisco since the pandemic began, a number that will continue to increase as the grab-and-go meals program expands to serve all children.
- A Call to Action to Address COVID-19–Induced Global Food Insecurity to Prevent Hunger, Malnutrition, and Eating Pathology (Nutrition Reviews)
- Facts About Child Hunger in America (No Kid Hungry)
- This is What Hunger Looks Like in COVID-19 America (NBC News)
- World on the Brink of a ‘Hunger Pandemic’: Coronavirus Threatens to Push Millions into Starvation (OXFAM International)
- Children are More Likely to Experience Summer Hunger as Families Struggle to Make up for Lost School Meals. (Feeding America)
- Covid-19 Pandemic is the First Time 40% of Americans Have Experienced Food Insecurity (CNBC)
- COVID Schools: San Francisco Unified School District To Begin Free Lunch Program For All Children (CBS Bay Area)
- Economic Fallout From COVID-19 Continues To Hit Lower-Income Americans the Hardest (Pew Research Center)
- Free Meals and Food Assistance (San Francisco Department of Children, Youth, and their Families)
- How All Kids in San Francisco Can Get Free Meals From SFUSD (KRON 4)
- The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity (Feeding America)
- Nutrition and School Meals (SFUSD)
- San Francisco Unified to Offer Free Food to All Children Living in the City (NBC Bay Area)
- SFUSD Will Provide Free Meals for All Children in San Francisco Regardless of SFUSD Enrollment (SFUSD)
- Trump Administration Extends Free Meals for Kids for Entire School Year (USDA Food and Nutrition Service)