GLASGOW – With two weeks of alternate meal-distribution methods behind them, some local school systems are shifting their game plans to still try to meet the need of feeding children during their nontraditional instruction days at home while still limiting potential exposures to the novel coronavirus that has swept the nation.
Starting Monday, Glasgow and Barren County school systems are switching to meal distribution only twice a week, with the same total number of meals to be provided. Three days’ worth of meals will be delivered Mondays and two days’ worth on Thursdays. Barren County had only been delivering once a day since schools closed starting March 16 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, while Glasgow, which has a much smaller geographic area to cover, had started out making the routes twice a day but started Wednesday distributing breakfast and lunch simultaneously.
Caverna Independent Schools started with once per day and plans to continue that for the duration of the disease-prevention effort, except during spring break, when they plan to go to a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule with volunteers, as those are not scheduled contract work days.
In all cases, the plan is for one hot meal to be included for that day and the extra meals would all be foods don’t have to be heated.
As it is now, schools are supposed to remain closed until April 20, but that’s already one extension from the initial two-week closure recommended by Gov. Andy Beshear.
Glasgow Independent Schools had gone ahead and planned to be closed for four weeks, with the final of those being planned off for spring break anyway, but now it’s had to add one more week to that plan. The other two systems started with two weeks and then tacked on the following weeks.
Chad Muhlenkamp, GIS’ director of pupil personnel, said “it’s been a great service to be able to provide for our students, we’ve had tremendous effort from the staff that are here working daily. I can’t commend them enough for the efforts and the energy they’ve put forth to make sure our students’ needs are being met – the bus drivers, everyone out delivering and doing those things.”
He said it’s definitely been a learning experience, though. The first couple of days, they had to do a little backtracking to take care of some who called in, but overall, it’s gone pretty smoothly. The information has been posted and updated on the district website.
He said both reductions in times have been done as ways to limit potential exposures, to protect staff and students but still provide for the needs.
The types of food products and supplies “have been a complete change in what our traditional ordering has been,” with so many more individually packaged items rather than food prepared in bulk and served.
While the larger systems have meals going out from each of their schools, Caverna just has the elementary and middle/high schools, so they are managing all the meal distribution from the elementary school to further limit potential exposure, said Amanda Abell, assistant superintendent.
Also, rather than running a complete bus route, they have about five distribution points, like apartment complexes, in Cave City and in Horse Cave from where most of the food is given to students, she said.
“If a student can’t make it to one of those sites, then we deliver door to door as needed,” Abell said. “Our district boundary isn’t as wide or as far as other districts.”
Friday, for example, she said they did enough meals via delivery and pickup for 549 students out of the roughly 700 students that attend there.
Barren County, by contrast, was averaging enough meals to serve 3,510 students.
Abell said that more than 80 percent of students in her district are economically disadvantaged, so that proportion sounded about right.
Their tactic of delivering every day may have to change at some point, she said, “but we feel it’s better for our kids to try to get as many hot meals as possible, so as it stands now, after spring break will go back to five days a week once a day.”
One of the concerns has been just with supplies of single-use containers, bags, etc.
“I think next week’s going to be a little more uncertain,” Abell said.
The milk truck was a little late on Friday, so the distribution started late, and the milk supplier has indicated they were running short, she said. The school system is required to provide milk with lunch meals sent out, but it can get waivers to do so without it, and it has one ready to go, just in case, she said.
CheyAnne Fant, director of nutrition services for Barren County Schools, said that in addition to lowering the number of days of distribution, they are going to start Monday staggering the departure times for the buses and vans making deliveries in 10-minute intervals, so all the loaders and drivers aren’t there at the same time.
She was also hearing about the milk issue, and they have been able to work with their supplier to make an adjustment. Rather than using the individual half-pint single servings, they will begin providing a half gallon – eight cups – of milk on Mondays to cover the entire week. The breakfasts can have juice instead of milk, so this will provide three days’ of milk servings for breakfast and five days’ of milk servings for lunch. The other two breakfasts will have orange juice, Fant said.
They also add to address a shortage of carry-out supplies by finding some alternate vendors, and some local individuals and/or businesses had contributed bags and boxes.
“We’ve had great community support,” she said.
One of the other major adjustments for Barren County Schools was making sure they included everyone who wanted or needed to be, adding in and changing routes to accommodate delivery stops for those students who didn’t always or perhaps never did ride the school bus.
Other things have had to be tweaked along the way, but she said she thinks the staff have enjoyed helping as much as the students enjoy receiving the meals.
“It’s taken the whole village to make it happen,” Fant said. “We’ve had over 250 people who have been working every day to make sure those meals are getting delivered.”