Baylor-backed emergency meal delivery recognized at White House

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Washington, as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Vice President Mike Pence listen. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer

A Baylor-backed initiative to feed rural students during the coronavirus pandemic received national recognition at a White House press briefing Friday.

The Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), McLane Global and PepsiCo for the Emergency Meals-To-You effort. The program’s goal is to deliver 1 million nutritious meals each week to rural students who would normally rely on school meals and are too remote to pick up food from those schools.

McLane Global handles the sourcing, assembly, packaging and delivery of the meals, which are shelf-stable for two weeks. Many schools around the country are offering meal pick-ups for students, but some live too far away from school to take advantage. At the press briefing, McLane Global chairman and Baylor alumnus Denton McLane said the Meals-To-You program offers a solution.

“Imagine this: you live in Iberia Parish, Louisiana or you live in the Nome Borough in Alaska. Your schools are closed and normally your children get two meals a day at school. Both parents are working from home, but mom and dad just can’t get to town where meals are being offered for pick-up,” McLane said. “That’s about to change and change for the better.”

In the lead up to the press briefing, Jeremy Everett, founder and executive director of the Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, said the briefing can inform people nationwide about the program’s availability.

“We think this is a great resource to a lot of communities around the country, but they have to know about it for it to their families,” Everett said. “From that end we’re grateful that they’re choosing to showcase this as one of their key responses … On another level anytime your program is highlighted in this kind of capacity it’s encouraging and affirming that you’re moving in the right direction … That’s pretty cool.”

The Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty provides sponsorship and oversight for the program. Meals-To-You began its trial run in Summer 2019 as a summer meal delivery service. Boxes with a week’s worth of food were sent out weekly for roughly 4,000 children in East and West Texas. The plan for 2020 was to expand to New Mexico and Alaska, but Everett said the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it down a new path.

“Once [the coronavirus outbreak] happened, in conversations with senior administration and USDA, we determined this Meals-To-You program could be tweaked and expanded nationwide to try to address rural childhood hunger during the pandemic.”

The new goal is to reach 100,000 children with 1 million meals a week, a huge increase from 4000 children last summer. Everett said the program was fortunate to have the infrastructure in place to quickly scale up to the new demand.

“It obviously taught us how to scale things a little more quickly than we were anticipating. Fortunately, we built the infrastructure to be able to scale and with scaling in mind last summer, but we’ve had to quickly expand the infrastructure,” Everett said. “One of the things we’ve learned is how to essentially scale up a national program in 48 hours … [We’re] grateful that we’re able to make some contribution.”

Everett also said Emergency Meals-To-You could expand even more if demand increases and the first meals were ready to leave the warehouse Friday afternoon.