Governor Doug Ducey announced Sunday that all Arizona schools will be closed through March 27 to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. But many children rely on their school cafeterias' free and reduced lunch programs for breakfast and mid-day meals.
While local school districts are working to get food to children despite school closures, some Phoenix area restaurants also are looking to help.
Justin Piazza owns three pizzerias across metro Phoenix and is determined to help stop children going hungry during the statewide school closures.
His restaurants, La Piazza in downtown Phoenix, La Piazza Al Forno in Glendale and Piazza Romana in Avondale offer free lunch to children who need it, starting on Tuesday, March 17.
"I know for a fact that my kids know kids at school that don't eat if they don't have school meals," Piazza said, "so we are just trying to figure out how we can do our part."
From 11a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, La Piazza and La Piazza Al Forno will offer take-out lunches of pasta, fruit and salad for children who rely on schools to provide meals during the week. Piazza Romana will offer slices of pizza. The meals are available for take-out at each of the restaurants.
And this is not the first time Piazza has stepped up for local kids. In Spring 2018, he offered free meals to students impacted by school closures caused by #RedForEd teacher strikes. This time, however, he anticipates a much bigger turnout.
'I would hate to have a kid not be able to eat'
While he will not turn anyone away, Piazza hopes that only families who truly need the help will take advantage of the offer, he said.
"I'm not very happy with how it's gone with people panicking, like with the toilet paper," he said, "but I would hate to have a kid not be able to eat."
Piazza's restaurants remain open currently, with extra precautions such as reduced capacity and spread out tables. But he predicts his restaurants will switch to fully take-out and delivery options by the end of the week.
Not only will switching to take-out and delivery help his restaurants stay open while keeping customers safe, Piazza also hopes it will allow him to keep his staff.
Piazza has seen a "drastic drop" in business at his restaurants this week and is doing what he can to stay open. Free lunches for kids seemed like the right thing to do, he said.
"People still have to eat," Piazza said. "So we are going to do our part for as long as we can."