“Hi, how are you? We miss you guys. Stay healthy.”
These are the type of sentiments people collecting grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches from the Marshall School District can hear from staff members who provide twice-weekly curbside pick-up in front of the elementary school.
Vehicles idle in line, yellow pieces of paper with numbers secured under the passenger side windshield wiper to indicate the number of children needing meals. White paper bags marked with B or L for the type of meal are handed through the passenger window first; then the vehicles creep forward a couple feet for the milk carton distribution.
With schools shuttered to all but a core team of personnel and no knowledge of when –or if — the buildings will reopen for the remainder of the academic year, local districts continue providing food to pupils.
From 10:30 a.m. to noon on Monday and Thursday, children who reside in the Marshall School District can receive bags of food; this is a change from the initial plan when the district planned to have several sites in the community for daily pick up. District business manager Bob Chady said this reduces the number of district staff involved in the program, which in turn means less time of potentially being exposed to any virus.
For Waterloo students, meal bundles are available to pick up Thursdays from 3-5 p.m. near the elementary school front doors. Each of the packages is in a plastic bag marked with the student’s name.
Sharon Peterson, the business manager for the Waterloo School District, said 74 students are receiving the weekly food bags. The numbers in Marshall are more than double this. Chady said initially the program was serving 165 breakfasts and lunches daily; the demand has increased to the point where the district is providing 200 breakfasts and lunches.
Breakfast items being distributed at Marshall include muffins, string cheese, juice, milk and fruit. For lunch, there is a sandwich (turkey, ham, peanut butter and jelly, and other assorted varieties), ½ cup of fruit, ½ cup of vegetables and milk. Chady said the menus and meals vary by day.
Peterson said Waterloo is following the nutrition guidelines of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to create its bundles. Breakfast items being packaged include breakfast bars, whole fruit and milk or juice. Lunches contain a protein item such as a sandwich, fruit and additional items including cheese sticks, crackers, applesauce, and milk or juice.
The meal programs are both being supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, but through different avenues. Marshall is taking part in the Summer Food Service Program, which was allowed to be activated early. Chady said Marshall participated in the program during the summer of 2019 to provide free breakfast and lunch to students taking summer school courses. The USDA reimburses school districts with federal money based on how many meals are distributed. To qualify for the summer food service program, more than 50 percent of a district’s students must qualify for free or reduced meal prices during the regular school program.
The Waterloo School District is utilizing the USDA’s Seamless Summer Option that uses the same meal service rules and claiming procedures during the regular school year. Peterson would like to continue using this program, which uses federal funds to reimburse the district, to continue serving meals to students. She said the meal is free to all students in the district.
“The school districts were also invited to apply for a No Kid Hungry emergency relief grant up to $50,000,” the Waterloo business manager said, adding she has applied for the grant, which could supply $5,000 to $50,000. “We don’t want this to cost a lot of money, but we do want to provide the most nutritional meals we can to our students and follow the guidelines given.”
Peterson said the PTO has been a huge asset in providing contributions and efforts to distribute the meals. The organization has been accepting monetary donations to help purchase milk vouchers that can be used at the local stores. As of March 23, the PTO has raised $1,400.
Chady said the it is unknown how much money the district will need to keep the program going through the end of April.
“Honestly, our efforts have been more aligned with making the program happen and meeting the needs of our community than on our cost and profit/loss margin,” he said. “We will get to that at some point, but we’ve been too busy with the pace of trying to keep up with things and administering the business side of the school district during these interesting times.”
The Waterloo business manager said the district plans to provide food until the end of the month or until resources run out.
“We take it one day at a time as necessary,” she said.
According to Peterson, parents and students are very appreciative and happy in regard to the free meals.
“The comments from the community (families and children) are very heartwarming. Much thanks and appreciation for the district providing this service,” the Marshall business manager said. “Many families now find themselves in a position of financial insecurity and these meals help to direct their financial resources to their dinner plate and other family obligations.”