The powerful winds of Hurricane Irma blew through South Florida, leaving a trail of debris, devastation, and even death.
Evidence was visible in uprooted trees, downed power lines, and the tragic deaths of elderly who would lose their lives from heat exhaustion as a result of an extended loss of power in a rehabilitation center charged with their care.
As a person of faith, I have always embraced the promises of Psalm 30:5, which assures that weeping may endure for a night, but that there would be “joy in the morning.” My personal and professional life and journey have shown this to be true.
However, as nearly 400,000 school-aged children and youth in Miami-Dade would serve witness to the maximum sustained winds of Irma through the night, there would be little to no “joy” in the morning for the nearly 70 percent of them living in poverty and whose primary source of nutrition and sustenance comes from the National School Lunch Program administered by the Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
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That is why I am recommending to the School Board at our Wednesday meeting that it consider a measure to provide school meals to children during mandated emergency school closures.
As Irma’s winds and rain subsided and headed north throughout the state of Florida, for far too many children and families, from Homestead to County Line Road, basic needs such as food and water went from a “before and during the storm bad” to an “after the storm worse.”
As a result of mandatory school closures ordered by the governor and required due to the conditions resulting from the hurricane, when it came to a healthy meal, there would no nutritious meals for nearly 10 days.
Sadly, for too many in Miami-Dade — whose homes were without power, parents without gas or transportation, and whose refrigerators would remain empty — the sounds that they would hear and which would become increasingly loud were the painful growling of their stomachs unable to get their fill.
See, for low-income families, schools can be about more than just learning.
They provide free or reduced-cost meals to many poor children and low-income families, an important income support for the family and a critical source of healthy food for the children.
When schools close for days, as they did after Hurricane Irma, students are without that life-line. Hot daily meals are no longer guaranteed with schools closed.
Moving forward, these lessons must serve as fuel and motivation for community stakeholders, who, along with M-DCPS, the nation’s fourth largest school district and entity best positioned in terms of experience, expertise, and operational capacity, can lead and facilitate meal distributions for our students in times of catastrophe requiring mandatory school closures.
It is only through pragmatic policy positions and powerful partnerships across the community that children living in poverty can have a hot meal in their bellies after a storm.
Dr. Steve Gallon III is the elected District 1 School Board Member for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.