Submitted by Denair Unified School District:
A school district is a place to learn lessons and so it was for the Denair Unified School District food service staff after the first two days of free meal pickup.
With all four campuses shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Denair – like other public school districts – still must provide free breakfasts and lunches to each of its 1,300 students who want one.
For context, the district typically serves up to 400 free breakfasts and as many as 700 lunches when class is in session. The school closures put all that into flux.
Initially, Denair announced a plan to hand out meals twice daily in a drive-through system in the middle school parking lot.
Thursday, only eight breakfasts and 39 lunches were served. A robocall Thursday night to all parents in the district reminding them of the service boosted the numbers to 20 breakfasts and 98 lunches Friday.
Slight progress for sure, but district officials believe there still is room for improvement to meet the food and nutritional needs of many children.
Beginning Monday, an even more convenient and streamlined service will be put in place. Breakfast will be available for pickup from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., and then between 10:30 a.m. and noon lunch for that day as well as breakfast for the next day will be handed out.
Both meals will be distributed Tuesdays through Thursdays between 10:30 a.m. and noon, and only lunch will be provided during the same time on Fridays.
Also next week, two remote delivery sites will be added Monday through Friday:
- Denair Friends Church, 4033 N. Gratton Road, from 10:35 to 10:55 a.m.
- Olsen’s Fabricating, 5906 N. Montpelier Road, from 11:05 to 11:25 a.m.
Lunches and the next day’s breakfast will be available Monday through Thursday, and lunches only on Friday at the off-campus sites.
“We just think this is better and makes more sense for our families,” said Linda Covello, the district’s chief business official. “With same-day lunch and next-day breakfast, parents only have to stop by once. And the remote locations allow us to reach more people. If they can’t come to us, we want to go to them.”
The rules say any child 18 years old or younger — including those not yet old enough for school — is eligible for a meal. They need not be a student at any Denair school.
The only requirement to receive a meal is that every child who needs one must be in the car for the food to be distributed.
“We’re here to feed children,” said Kim Fuentez, the district’s food services director. “They can be toddlers or even go to school somewhere else.”
She said breakfasts will consist of pastries such as muffins, cinnamon rolls or concha Mexican sweetbreads; milk and fruit. Lunches this week included uncrustables peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (EZ jammers for children with a peanut allergy), fruit (apple, orange, fruit cup or applesauce), vegetable (broccoli and carrots), and juice and milk.
Fuentez said the plan next week is to add hot items such as hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets or even pizza to the lunch bags. Salads also are a possibility. She said she builds the daily menu to minimize waste.
A note in each bag reminds parents that lunches should be eaten within four hours and breakfast items refrigerated and consumed within 24 hours.
Almost as important as the nourishment being provided is renewing the familiar bonds between many of the students and the eight women on the food service staff. They are used to seeing each other on a daily basis; many of Fuentez’s staff members are as popular with the students as their teachers.
“The reality is, during this unprecedented situation, it was good for some of our lunch ladies to see the kids and smile at them,” Fuentez said. “They’re a regular part of these kids’ lives. It was neat to see the happiness on kids’ faces when they saw each other. We specialize in kindness.”
The bottom line is that the district recognizes how much food insecurity there is in the region and wants to make sure that every child has access to nutritional meals at no cost. “Many families in our community continue to struggle to make ends meet,” said Superintendent Terry Metzger. “The fact that the district can help to ensure that students are fed at least two meals per day during the school closures is a huge relief for those families.”