March 23 (UPI) -- New York City public schools shuttered by the coronavirus outbreak on Monday began providing free meals to all city schoolchildren forced to stay home -- joining several other cities in the effort.
Officials said "grab-and-go" meals are now available at more than 400 locations across the city. Three meals per day will be included and all are available to be collected at once.
The distribution mainly is a move to help needy children who, before the outbreak, relied on school meals each day for food. It's estimated nearly 30 million children in the United States rely on such free or low-cost meals.
New York's education and health departments chose 100 of the distribution sites based on high participation during last year's summer vacation. The remainder were chosen in parts of the city where more than 50 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-cost meals.
The city said it has partnered with delivery service DoorDash to get meals to students who can't leave home due to medical reasons.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio initially opposed closing public schools during the early stages of the outbreak, but later relented and said they won't reopen until at least April 20.
More than 10,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in New York City and 99 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Many other school districts in the United States have also established free meal distribution programs as classes have been canceled in at least 45 states as of late last week.
The programs were enabled after President Donald Trump signed legislation making it easier for students to access food and the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved waivers allowing schools to bypass requirements that meals be provided only in group settings.
A survey of more than 1,700 school districts conducted by the School Nutrition Association this month found that 70 percent of them are feeding children during coronavirus-related school closures, or are planning to do so.
Most school officials said that like New York, they are using "grab-and-go" meals at school sites or drive-thru pick-ups to distribute the food. Other districts in Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.