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As school districts stop meal services, local pantry shelves are sitting empty

Ritenour Co-Care Food Pantry is one of many pantries in our area running low on food.

ST. LOUIS — More than 5,000 students in the Riverview Gardens School District won't have access to free meals.

District leaders made the announcement Sunday night they will no longer pass out meals or assignment packets to students while schools are closed.

Nearly all of the students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunches. 

READ MORE: Riverview Gardens School District cancels meal, assignment deliveries

A district spokesperson told 5 On Your Side they made the decision "out of an abundance of caution".

It's a trying time for many families across the country and right here in St. Louis. 

John Minard runs the Ritenour Co-Care Food Pantry in north St. Louis. It normally serves 750 families, which comes out to more than 4,000 people.

"It's been a real stress in terms of availability of resources," said Minard.

He's now helping twice as many people since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

"People who are unemployed, who've been affected by the coronavirus and children who are no longer in school, who typically get hot breakfast and hot lunch are no longer getting those things," added Minard.

READ MORE: Where kids can get free meals in St. Louis, Metro East

The increased need for food is leaving his pantry with empty freezer shelves. The pantry is struggling to provide enough food for everyone who needs it.

"The coronavirus obviously is a serious concern, but I'll tell you the next biggest thing is people worrying if they'll be able to provide food for their family," said Minard.

Riverview Gardens School District shut down its meal pickup service starting Monday and will no longer hand out assignment packets to students. 

Two bus drivers passed away in the Ferguson-Florissant School District causing that district to suspend its meal service until April 10.

READ MORE: Ferguson-Florissant bus driver who was helping deliver food dies from COVID-19

The Ritenour School District is still delivering breakfast and lunch meals to students, but beginning this week, the delivery dates will be scaled back to help reduce the risk of exposure to kids and families. Students will still receive a full week of meals, but they'll now be delivered two days per week.

Mindard, however, said he's confident the community will come together.

"We will find food, please do not be afraid," he added.

There is also a tax credit available to anyone in Missouri who donates to food pantries.