The rural school district of Estacada, Ore., serves around 1,700 students, 50% of whom qualify for free or reduced meals. So when its schools closed due to the threat of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, officials worried about the heavy burden it would put on families in the community.
“We have a lot of families that may not have the gas money to receive the proper nutrition for their children,” Ryan Carpenter, the superintendent of the Estacada School District, tells TIME. So the schools would bring the meals to them.
The Estacada School District’s newly established food service delivery program is made up of 35 to 40 staff members who prepare 750 breakfast and lunches a day. Bus drivers then deliver that food to the stops along their route where they’d usually pick up children. (Anyone who handles the food or interacts with children is required to wear gloves.)
It’s just one of many such delivery programs that have emerged around the U.S. since the coronavirus crisis began. From Michigan to Georgia, districts have found ways to bring school lunches to kids who rely on them.
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Jody White, a bus driver who has driven for Estacada for 12 years, tells TIME that she thinks the children are comforted when they see the school bus pull up. “It’s been comforting to me,” she says, “and I have thank you cards from almost every stop this morning.”
Laura Frazey, a mom in Estacada whose kids receive meals from the delivery program, says the past few weeks have been scary for her. But, she adds, “The smile on our kids’ face when they feel like they’ve been remembered in this hard time is huge.”
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