DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham Public Schools is partnering with a group of volunteers to make sure more children have access to meals.
DPS offers meal pick-ups at 24 locations from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but not all parents are able to make those windows.
"If two parents are working, and unavailable to go drive to a school to pick up, the food becomes instantly unavailable to those children. And many families who are even still at home lack access to transportation that can navigate quickly and efficiently to get to a school site to get it home," said Dr. Linden Thayer, an organizer with Eat NC.
DPS and Eat NC are teaming up to provide volunteers to drop off food at homes of students who don't have access to those sites.
"We have a very large population in Durham that either can't or it would be a large struggle to pick up those meals," Thayer said.
District officials explained just how important those meals are to the bulk of their student body.
"In Durham, we currently have over 65 percent of our kids that are socioeconomically disadvantaged and that require free or reduced meals during the school day. And we normally feed about 20,000 kids a day during lunch. So, we know the need is there. We just need to find a way to meet that need through every avenue possible" said James Keaten, the Director of School Nutrition Services for the district.
Thayer added: "Food access is an issue and food insecurity is an issue -- pre-COVID and it will be post-COVID."
Thayer is the co-founder of Food Insight Group, which has worked on other initiatives to provide food to those in need during the past several months. Keaten said their experience and trust with the community is key to making this work.
"They're a resource that's already in the community and it's a trusted part of the community. And they have ways to get families to be able to apply and register confidentially without having to give up their access," Keaten said. "We want to make sure we can provide the confidentiality for the families, and we are able to access and reach more people this way."
So far, about 150 families and nearly as many volunteers have signed up to participate.
"Schools have been serving as this frontline worker that nobody has been giving the light of day to. They've been feeding innumerable children," Thayer said.
Serving more meals also has important funding considerations for the district.
"We receive federal reimbursement for every meal that we serve. So, the more meals we serve, the more reimbursement we receive, the more students we can reach, and the more staff we can keep employed during the time," Keaten said.
DPS will soon be able to use its buses to transport food; a district spokesperson told ABC11 that this will help support the efforts of Eat NC.
Volunteers go through a background check before they are able to participate.
The first food drop-offs are set to begin September 9.