The San Diego Unified School District removed 850 letters on Wednesday from food boxes being distributed to families as part of the federal Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
School district officials say that the letter downplays the severity of COVID-19 and provides misleading medical information.
Throughout the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been purchasing food from farmers that would normally be sent to restaurants. The food is then packaged into family-sized boxes and distributed to families in need through local food banks, faith-based organizations, and other non-profits.
Since May, over 100 million food boxes have been delivered to families in need nationwide.
The letter accompanying each box, provided in both English and Spanish and signed by President Trump, reads in part:
“As our country reopens , I urge all Americans to continue to adhere to the important precautions set forth in the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding how to best protect yourself and your family. A few key best practices to support our nationwide recovery are:
1. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands;
2. People who feel sick should say home;
3. Protect the most vulnerable individuals, including those 80+ years of age and those with pre-existing conditions.
4. Practice social distancing and consider wearing a face covering when in public
To learn more, please visit: www.coronavirus.gov
San Diego United has taken issue with the letter on several points:
1: It only asks that people “consider wearing a face covering” rather than urging them to do so;
2: It makes COVID out to be dangerous for only the very elderly and very sick;
3: The letters are being distributed with food boxes sent to the poorest of the nation, who are at a higher risk for infection and hospitalization from COVID; and,
4: The distribution of the letters is a Trump campaign strategy to promote himself before the voters in the weeks leading up to the elections.
Superintendent Cindy Marten said in a statement, “Science is clear: wearing a mask works to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Masks are required in California and on every San Diego Unified school campus. It is not optional, as the President wrote in his letter.”
Likewise, the San Diego Unified Board President John Lee Evans said, “The thing that was concerning was that it talked about precautions for COVID-19 and it did not give a strong message about wearing masks.”
School Board Trustee Sharon Whitehurst-Payne spoke of the higher likelihood that poor neighborhoods and communities face for being infected, and called the letter “appalling” for “tak(ing) advantage of that suffering by distributing misleading medical information.”
“Politics has played zero role in the Farmers to Families food box program,” said the U.S. Department of Agriculture in defense of the program and the letters, ” – it is purely about helping farmers and distributors get food to Americans in need during this unprecedented time.”