Va. Teachers Launch GoFundMe to Ensure Students Still Get Fed as Schools Close for Coronavirus

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A trio of teachers in Virginia are teaming up to make sure the more than 8,000 students in their district who get free or reduced lunches will still get fed now that schools have closed due to coronavirus.

Yorktown High School teachers Laurie Vena, Aaron Schuetz and Deborah Waldron have launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for kids in the Arlington Public School district who currently receive breakfast and lunch from the district’s program.

“For many of them, that might be the only two meals of the day that they get,” Vena told Good Morning America. “For those students, the primary thing they need is food or they can’t learn anything from us.”

Arlington Public Schools will close their doors beginning March 16 amid the coronavirus outbreak, and will remained closed through spring break until April 14.

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There are so far 30 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Virginia, and at least 1,663 across the country as of Friday morning, according to The New York Times. States like Ohio and Maryland were among the first to close schools in an effort to curb the spread.

The teachers’ GoFundMe hopes to raise $830,000 so that it can give each of the 8,300 kids who are on the lunch program a $100 grocery gift card.

“If schools close due to the coronavirus, these food insecure families may face challenges feeding their families,” the page says. “This problem may be compounded if employers start cutting hours or closing their doors and wage workers end up without work.”

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If the full $830,000 goal is not met, the teachers will meet with school social workers to best allocate the funds.

“We will prioritize gift cards to the most vulnerable kids in the neediest schools first by starting with elementary students who qualify for free lunch at our Title I schools,” the page says.

According to the district’s website, any elementary school in Arlington with 45 percent or more of the student population receiving free or reduced lunch is eligible for Title I funds, which help schools provide “equal educational opportunities for low-performing students in schools with economic need.”

The GoFundMe campaign has so far raised more than $71,000.

Meanwhile, GoFundMe.org, the company’s non-profit and advocacy arm, has launched a fundraiser that offers support for organizations and individuals affected by coronavirus, the platform said in a statement provided to PEOPLE on Friday.

“By donating to the GoFundMe.org general relief fund, the donation supports many individuals who have started fundraisers on GoFundMe related to this pandemic, and organizations dedicated to serving the people,” the company said. “Donations to the general relief fundraiser of GoFundMe.org, a United States charity, are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law, and will broadly support communities impacted by coronavirus.”

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U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday that schools would still be able to provide students with meals at no cost to them, even as they continued to close.

Those meals, under normal circumstances, would be served in a group setting, but because this is a public health emergency, the USDA has the authority to waive that requirement, which is important considering the emphasis being place on “social distancing.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats have proposed legislation in which states would be allowed to provide food stamps to make up for lost school lunch benefits for kids kept home from school, according to the Associated Press.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.