free meals AP Photo/Susan Walsh

While schools are closed statewide to fight the spread of the coronavirus, many kids are left without a way to eat. 

Thea Crockett, a Phoenix Union High School District math teacher, is very worried about the coronavirus pandemic.

Her school, like all others in the state, has been closed indefinitely while officials determine what to do next. Like other educators, she wondered what would happen to the students who experience food insecurity. 

“If we don’t help the parents, those kids, those families only rely on the foods from the schools,” Crockett said. “That’s their only means of eating, getting their food.”

More than half (57%) of Arizona’s more than a million K-12 students received free or reduced-price meals during the 2018 school year.

That’s why Crockett teamed up with Jennis Vicente, founder of Phoenix-based Data Science Consultants, LLC, to create a map showing families where children can get free meals. 

The map includes several hundred places offering free and discounted food. Each listing includes information on the services available, address, time and dates places are open, and ages served. The map also lets families know if they are required to register in advanced, and if eligibility for the services is based on their income.

Most of the map’s locations are in the Phoenix area, but there are also listings included in Yuma, Tucson, Flagstaff, and surrounding areas. 

Crockett and Vicente spent a full day getting the website running and inputting data collected from community volunteers on spreadsheets. Now they continue to add new information they receive. 

While Crockett and Vicente don’t have children or other family in the area to take care of – most of Crockett’s family is in the Philippines, while Vicente’s is in Puerto Rico – they are turning their time and energy to the community. 

“We’re trying to wait for news, for announcements, and … we’ve got some skills and talents that we could use right now while we’re waiting at home; and we know time is of the essence,” Crockett said. 

The math teacher is also brainstorming solutions for what to do if things get worse. 

“We’re also thinking of what happens if the kids wouldn’t be able to go out anymore to grab those foods because of more severe measures like lockdown, which is already happening in other countries,” she said. 

She said the pair are trying to collect information on how many total meals are available, how many students are in need, and why some students aren’t taking advantage of them. 

“So that if things get graver or the situation is more riskier, then we have already gathered data that would help us prepare for the worst, because that’s the nature now of the virus,” Crockett said. 

She said the pair is also working to create a map documenting resources for seniors who are at an elevated risk for COVID-19. 

Anyone who has information they would like to see added to the map can contact Crockett and Vicente at data.science.llc@gmail.com.