New Survey Highlights K-12 Trends Amidst COVID-19 Closures

Hannah Leighton, Director of Research and Evaluation

A new survey and subsequent report from the School Nutrition Association (SNA) highlights national efforts to feed K-12 students during COVID-19 and the financial impacts of school closures. The survey was open from April 30 to May 8, 2020 and garnered responses from 1,894 school districts, including 226 in the Northeast (New England plus New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania). The survey asked questions about the methods in which districts are providing food, the type of meals served, frequency of distribution, PPE needs, and anticipated financial impacts. This survey followed an earlier survey administered in March.

Survey results show that 95% of total respondents are providing emergency meal assistance during COVID-19, with an aggregated 134 million meals served nationally in April. Respondents were most likely to report serving entrees/sides to be heated at home (64.7%) and shelf-stable meals (64.3%). 36.2% of respondents reported serving hot meals and 15.8% are serving bulk foods. 21.6% of districts said they are serving locally sourced foods. Across all regions, 80.1% of respondents reported serving fewer meals than normal, while 8.6% reported the number of meals staying the same and 11.3% said they are serving more meals during COVID-19.


The northeast had the second highest percentage of districts reporting a reduction in the number of meals, with 86% of respondents reporting that they were serving fewer meals during the pandemic than normal (see figure 1 and 2).

Figure 1: 86% of Northeast districts reported serving fewer meals during COVID-19; n=211.

Figure 2: 63% of Northeast districts reported serving at least 50% fewer meals; n=211.

Respondents reported providing meals using a variety of methods including walk-up sites, drive through sites, meal delivery to homes and via bus routes, and partnering with food banks. Nationally, drive-through sites were mentioned with the most frequency (81% of districts reported using this method). While Northeast respondents also mentioned drive through sites most frequently as their method of distribution (69%), they also reported delivering directly to homes (61%) more frequently than any other region (figure 3, figure 4).

Figure 3: Northeast districts reported drive-through sites, delivery to homes, and walk-up sites as the most frequently used methods of distribution. n=213. Respondents could choose more than one option.

Figure 4: Northeast districts reported delivering meals directly to students’ homes with more frequency than any other region, with 61% saying they use this method. Respondents could choose more than one option.


Biggest challenges and financial impacts of school closures

Nationally, districts ranked financial losses, student hunger, staff safety, and availability of product/distributor as their biggest concerns, with all except student hunger being reported more frequently than in the March survey (figure 5).

When asked if districts anticipated an overall financial loss to their program in the 2019-20 school year, 67.5% said yes nationally with an estimated total loss of $626,438,567. Those with lower levels of free and reduced lunch were more likely to say yes, as were those with higher enrollment levels. In the Northeast, 77.9% of districts reported that they anticipated a loss, and only 52% reported having a reserve fund. 


Read the full SNA Survey Results (PDF)

Stay tuned for more examples of resilience in the Northeast


Communities are responding to COVID-19 with incredible generosity and ingenuity, recognizing the necessity of school meal programs and the connection to healthy and local food. Celebrate your community by sharing a story. View & Add Your Own on Facebook and Instagram! Tag your town, community, state or district - use #CommunitiesFeedKids.

K-12 Research

Farm to Institution New England (FINE) is gathering comparative data on how each New England state is handling school lunches in the COVID-19 closures. Results will be published in an article on our website.