Grab and Go Meal Service Provides Big Help to CPS Families

CPS continues to deliver lunches while students are virtual.


In the strange times of COVID-19, The Grab and Go Meal Service works to deliver breakfast and lunch to over 3000 students. When school shut down last year and threatened to remain closed after summer, there was concern for the many students who relied on free and reduced lunch in order to have food on their plate. Grab and Go tries to alleviate these concerns. 

The Grab and Go Meal Service began this year on September 8th and works on a Monday to Friday schedule. Families have two main options: They can either go to one of the listed schools between 9:30 am and 11 am, or to one of the bus stops listed on the CPS website. 

“What we have decided to do is, with the eligible schools for this provision, we have picked and selected routes where there were high need areas in our city that were associated with those particular schools,” CPS Nutrition Services Director Laina Fullum said. “So right now, there are about 90 bus stops that nutrition services load up buses and visit on a daily basis, Monday through Friday.” 

For an average year in the Columbia Public Schools system, over 8000 students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Without the meal program, many of these families would struggle to provide food for their children during the pandemic. But it’s not only free and reduced students who are benefiting from the program. On Monday, October 19th, CPS received word that all schools would qualify to offer students free breakfast and lunch for students until June 30th, 2021. 

“What we’re finding is that we’re not only providing meals to those families who are food insecure,” Fullum said,  “but also for parents overwhelmed by this whole COVID-19 existence of virtual living at this moment in time. We’ve gotten feedback from non-free parents, they say it has saved them. It’s one thing to provide meals on the weekend for your children, but most parents are not used to doing it 7 days a week. And so, a lot of our full price parents are taking advantage of the situation too, in a good way, because we want them to participate, because anyone who can get to the route is eligible to collect a set of meals.”

Challenges and difficulties have confronted the program. Among these difficulties have been getting hand sanitizer, informing parents about Grab and Go, and helping students who live far away get the food they need. 

“We have what are called neighborhood clubs, and what they do is go to some of the staff to pick up meals for other families and then take it to them,” Fullum said. 

The lunch staff has also experienced drastic changes in their working environment and the type of work they do. 

“The other thing is individualizing everything, packaging it up. Whenever you see the meals in the cafeteria, they’re in big, bulk pans and we serve individual portions as a student is standing in front of us. But when you’re talking about packing everything up, to make sure that it is safe for bus rides, that’s a whole other ball of wax. It’s just a lot, it’s very very labor-intensive, to put everything in a little container with a lid.” 

In spite of the difficulties, the program successfully gives out at least 6000 meals every day to about 3000 students, or about 1/6th of the CPS student population. 

“I just hope that parents know this is really for everyone,” Fullum said. “It’s okay to have a meal if your family needs a meal.”