Since the pandemic started, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), in collaboration with Martha’s Table and other community partners, has doled out 1.5 million meals and counting to District students who’ve been relegated to their houses.
Amid an ongoing heat wave, DCPS recently augmented this offering with free Uber rides for families traveling to and from eight free meal sites across the District.
Officials, community partners, and families marked the beginning of this special arrangement with an event at Ballou Senior High School, which serves as a grocery distribution site.
Ballou alumna and parent LaTonya Ames counted among those in the small group who converged on the Southeast school on Friday morning as DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and others marveled at squash, potatoes, tomatoes and other fresh produce.
“I’m a parent who feeds my kids like five or six times a day, but I was worried about other students. This is what I had been praying for: a program to help students,” said Ames, the mother of two Ballou students and two alumni.
Ames said she has often accompanied her children on trips to Ballou to pick up food, and participated in some food distribution activities. She expressed a desire to eventually serve as a driver through Lyft if the car service partners with DCPS.
For her, helping young people maintain the proper diet is personal.
“My boys are football players and they like fruits and vegetables,” Ames told The Informer. “I want them to be able to eat balanced meals, whether or not they’re with us. That’s why I teach them as I go.”
Food Security: Part of a Larger Plan
Other meal sites included in the Uber voucher include Cardozo Education Campus and Coolidge High School in Northwest, Kelly Miller Middle School in Northeast, and Turner Elementary School in Southeast.
Families can take up to six round trips in July and August.
This endeavor takes place weeks after the launch of DCPS’ summer acceleration academies through which a portion of the District student population has received literacy and math enrichment. Students have also learned about self-expression, holistic growth, career preparedness, and identity formation.
Young people, whether or not they attend the academies, can receive free meals throughout the summer.
DCPS officials have touted the academies, along with the food distribution system, as a means of priming students for their return to school in the fall and tackling the effects of the pandemic.
To meet students’ nutritional needs, DCPS’ Food and Nutrition Services partnered with Martha’s Table, DC Central Kitchen, and Capital Area Food Bank.
In the years preceding the pandemic, Martha’s Table, through its Joyful Food Markets and other initiatives, has collaborated with DCPS to connect students and families with fresh produce and encourage healthy food choices.
Martha’s Table President and CEO Kim Ford described the partnership as vital in tackling food insecurity from all angles.
“At the end of the day, we have had systemic inequities that don’t allow people to be exposed to shelf life items,” Ford told The Informer.
“[That’s why] we build [our programs] into everything our children are doing,” she added.
“We have two nationally accredited child care centers. We have all types of healthy food. We also provide recipes and cooking demonstrations. We entice with the cooking and textures.”
An Ongoing Heat Wave
On Friday, D.C. entered the sixth day of the longest heat wave recorded this season. Temperatures surpassed 90 degrees, oftentimes with a heat index of more than 100 degrees. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on Monday activated a heat emergency plan for the second consecutive week.
Given these circumstances, Ferebee told reporters Friday that DCPS’ partnership with Uber couldn’t have come at a better time for families.
“We know that transportation can be a barrier,” Ferebee said. “Think about a day when it’s well above 90 degrees. It’s more comfortable to get a ride to a meal site rather than walk. We’re asking our schools to give this information and remind families.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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