A recent survey by the School Nutrition Association shows how the pandemic has affected school nutrition programs in different geographic areas and population sizes. SNA is a nonprofit that includes school-district employees involved in school meals, state lawmakers who oversee child nutrition programs, and suppliers of food, equipment and software for school cafeterias.

School nutrition directors from rural areas made up 569 of the 1,890 directors surveyed from April 30 to May 8. The numbers among geographic types were similar, but rural areas were outliers in a few areas. Among the rural directors surveyed, 3.7% said that their school district had once provided meals or food assistance, but had stopped. This was the highest rate among all the geographic types.

Asked how meals and food assistance were being provided, rural areas had the lowest percentage of meal recipients who walked up to feeding sites or participated in drive-through feeding services. They also had the lowest rates of districts that partnered with food banks or other organizations to provide meals or food assistance. Rural areas had the highest rates of meals delivered to students' homes or delivered along bus routes.

Though rural areas have higher poverty rates than suburbs, rural directors were only slightly more likely to have access to school meals or food assistance for at least five days a week.

Rural directors were most likely to report that their district was serving more meals than usual during the pandemic, and least likely to report that it plans to operate a summer meals program if federal waivers for school meals during the pandemic expire on June 30 (which won't happen, since the waivers have been extended). Rural schools were also the least likely to have a reserve fund.