SAN ANTONIO — More than 250,000 San Antonio-area children will be out of school next week, with a surprise vacation as virtually every local campus has closed its doors.
Because many students rely on free breakfast and lunch programs, San Antonio ISD Board Chair Patti Radle said district staff will be working throughout the weekend to develop a plan to ensure that no child goes hungry.
Radle said the late notice about the school closures is a challenge.
"What this will look like? It's still being created at this time," she said. "We have staff busy in their offices trying to figure out some of these challenges for next week."
Radle said keeping people from congregating in large groups has to be a factor.
"Right now, we're looking at perhaps our high schools being a site for a distribution of food—not a hot meal that you come in and sit down with, but something where you come in, you grab a bag and you go."
Radle helps run west-side nonprofit Inner City Development. She said the group will do everything they can to help neighbors in need.
"An awful lot of our families are on limited budget and they won't get more money or food stamps. Many work a couple of jobs or have part-time jobs, and providing more food will cut into money as well if they're not working or losing their jobs," Radle said.
Radle said they will continue a long-time effort to serve lunches to people who are homeless.
"We will continue to do sack lunches, but maybe we'll say, 'Here's your sack lunch and we'll see you tomorrow,' because we don't want to create a crowd. But we feel like we can still be of service and we will be needed," Radle said.
Noting that others are stepping up to provide help for lost income and protection for those who may not be able to pay rent or utility bills, Radle says San Antonio remains a place where people work to take care of one another.
"It is amazing, but I've always felt that San Antonio is such a compassionate city and I think that together we will get through this. This city is amazing how they step up. And it is going to take all of us."
Radle said the effort must continue while closures remain in effect, adding, "I think we all have to buy into it. We all need to say we're all a part of it; it's affecting all of us, and do whatever we can to have mercy and forgive people because of the challenges that they have at this time."
'It's very difficult at this point'
Meanwhile, in west San Antonio on Friday night, the board of the Edgewood Pony League met and decided to postpone Saturday's opening day events, saying the safety of families is of the highest importance.
Marti Martinez is a volunteer with the organization with a young daughter. Martinez said she and many other parents will be scrambling for child care and hoping for the best.
"I work full-time, so I'm hoping we get to telework so I'll be able to take care of her," Martinez said, adding the move to close the schools was a surprise. "People don't realize until it happens and then it gets really difficult to find somebody to take care of your children, for example we have no family here at all."
Martinez said while the expense of child care would be a concern, her biggest worry is the safety of her child.
"My daughter is 4 years old, so trying to find someone that I know really well to trust with my child...you know, that's difficult," Martinez said.
She said the change comes at a time when many struggling families are already stressed about dealing with extra supplies needed to endure long periods at home.
"We've been stocking up on items and to stockpile like that is pricey," Martinez said, adding it feels like a quadruple whammy. "It's very difficult at this point."
Monica and Herb Salinas have two children, and both agreed they felt blessed that he is able to stay home with the kids.
Monica said her family and friends are struggling.
"It's very hard to deal with those last minute circumstances, especially with it being a Friday and just finding out today that schools are shut down next week. It's very hard. As a parent, it's stressful. It's very stressful."
Monica said she hopes this will be a time when the community comes together.
"We're all going to have to help each other out. It's going to be family helping family and friends helping family and everything like that," Monica said.