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CNP Community Engagement Response to COVID-19

During a pandemic or natural disaster, Child Nutrition Programs (CNP) can help maximize food resources, support disaster relief, and promote food assistance programs. This web page provides CNP Program Operators resources to assist their communities.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Main Web Page

Maximize Food Resources

Donate Unused Food to Nonprofit Organizations

What can CNP Operators do with leftover inventory when schools are closed due to COVID-19 or other natural disasters?

School districts may donate unused or leftover food as they wish as long as they comply with state and local health standards. Leftover food may be donated to address hunger in the community and reduce food waste.

For example, schools may:

  • Send leftover food items or meals from the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or Seamless Summer Option meal service in care packages home with students and families.
  • Donate leftover food or unused inventory to local food banks, other CNPs, or nonprofit groups such as homeless shelters, food pantries, and churches.
  • Partner with nonprofit groups or volunteers to operate a mobile or school site food pantry to distribute leftover food and other food donations.

However, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) day care home providers are not permitted to donate leftover foods. Please note that foods donated cannot be claimed as a food loss. To learn more, visit the California Department of Education (CDE) Management Bulletin (MB) Guidance on Donation of Leftover Food in CNPs web page.

Partner with Food Pantry Programs

How can CNPs help families access food for the entire family?

CNP Operators can also partner with food pantry programs and local nonprofit organizations by allowing them to distribute free food at meal service sites during or outside of meal distribution times. This allows families to receive additional food that can supplement meals throughout the week or over the weekend, without having to travel to multiple locations.

For example, schools may:

  • Host pop-up food pantries or farmers’ markets at school or district sites.
  • Provide prepackaged food pantry items in backpacks or grocery bags with mobile or home meal delivery service.
  • Distribute CNP meals at a local food pantry or nonprofit organization convenient to the community.
  • Establish a permanent school food pantry at a school or district site. For an example of a food bank partnership agreement with a school district, review this School Food Pantry Partnership Agreement (PDF).

Start a Food Pantry

How do I start a school food pantry program in my district?

  • Identify nonprofit organizations that are taking food donations and giving away free food.
  • Discuss with the organization and your leadership how the operations will be supported with volunteers, staff, facilities, or transportation.
  • Establish an agreement between your district or agency and the nonprofit organization for the desired donated food item categories, packaging or distribution methods, and pick-up and drop-off times and locations.
  • Label and set aside items for food donation.
  • Create a public schedule with food distribution times and locations.
  • Share meal service sites and pick-up times with your school community, local grocery stores, food pantries, and nonprofit organizations.

More information and resources about food pantry programs are available on the CDE Food Pantries in Schools web page.

Support Disaster Relief and Promote Food Assistance Programs

Distribute Food to Disaster Feeding Sites

How can CNPs respond to disaster relief efforts in the community?

Disaster relief organizations may designate CNPs as feeding sites or request that CNPs provide their U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foods to other feeding sites. USDA Foods may only be released on request to recognized disaster relief organizations such as the American Red Cross or the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services as outlined in MB 02-401 Use of USDA Foods in Disaster Feeding. For more information, visit the USDA During a Human Pandemic Outbreak Options for Schools and Communities web page External link opens in new window or tab..

Provide Meals at Emergency Shelters

Can the COVID-19 emergency shelters participate in any of the CNPs?

Yes. Any facility whose primary purpose is to provide temporary daytime or residential emergency shelter to homeless families with children is eligible to participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The CACFP allows emergency shelters to provide up to three meals, or two snacks and one meal, per day to children experiencing homelessness at no charge. In addition, a shelter may claim meal reimbursement for residents of any age who have mental or physical disabilities, provided that the shelter:

  • Serves a majority of residents who are 18 years of age or younger; and
  • There is documentation of the adult participant's disability. This may be self-reported by the participant in writing (i.e., through a shelter intake form) or by other means.

Additional guidance for emergency shelters is available on the USDA Participation of Emergency Shelters in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)—Questions and Answers web page External link opens in new window or tab..

Promote CalFresh

What other food assistance programs are available to families experiencing food insecurity?

CalFresh, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), can help families buy the food they need for good health. CalFresh benefits are provided on an Electronic Benefit Transfer card (EBT) which is accepted at most grocery stores and farmers’ markets. Eligible families can complete the CalFresh Application online External link opens in new window or tab.. Share more information about CalFresh during meal service using this CalFresh School Outreach Flyer External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF).

Inform Families about the Public Charge Rule

Will families participating in CNPs during the COVID-19 pandemic be identified as a public charge?

No. Participation in CNPs that offer free or reduced-price meals is not considered when making a public charge determination. Any child enrolled in a school that participates in the School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program, SFSP, or CACFP can apply for and be certified to receive free or reduced-price school meals. More resources are available in the Letter from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Public Charge Rule Does Not Impact Public Education and Programs Provided by Schools, released January 29, 2020.

Additional Information

For updated COVID-19 information for CNPs, visit the CDE COVID-19 Guidance for K–12 Schools and Child and Adult Day Care Meals web page. This page is updated Fridays with new information.

To apply for COVID-19: CNP Response Waivers, visit the Disaster tab on the CDE Nutrition What’s New web page.

More CDE COVID-19 resources are available on the Additional COVID-19 Resources web page.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, August 31, 2022
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