Drive-thru school meal distribution

A grateful Norwood-Norfolk student displays a sign of thanks Monday at a school meal distribution site on Bernard Avenue in Norwood. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve and directives at the state level change, schools are adapting to meet those changes.

That includes altering the initial schedule for distribution of breakfast and lunch to children.

School districts have been providing the meals to children under age 18 in their districts. Families have either picked them up at designated locations or the district has delivered them to homes.

Many of the districts have provided breakfast and lunch every day Monday through Friday. Others have used an abbreviated two- or three-day delivery schedule while still providing five days’ worth of breakfast and lunch.

The Massena Central School District initially offered pick-up at five locations Monday through Friday. But, to adapt to new directives, that has changed this week. For the week of March 23, they provided Tuesday and Wednesday meals on Tuesday, with no distribution on Wednesday. On Thursday, meals are being provided for both Thursday and Friday. There will be no distribution on Friday.

Starting the week of March 30, all meals will be provided on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the high school parking lot, Massena Community Center, Jefferson Elementary School parking lot, Ray Hurlbut Community Center and Arena in Louisville and the Norfolk Fire Station parking lot on state Highway 420 and 1 Furnace Drive.

Superintendent Patrick Brady said about 10 percent of Massena Central’s students reside in Akwesasne, and those students are also being addressed.

“We stay in close contact with Akwesasne. To date, the Salmon River Central School District has been able to pick up any student that has come their way,” he said.

The meal distribution plans are subject to change at any time, he said.

“This is very much an ongoing process and plan which changes based on conditions on the ground. Our plan at this time, which is subject to change, is that next week we’ll start with a regular Monday, Wednesday and Friday schedule,” Mr. Brady said.

He said school districts were required to receive a waiver from the federal government for all children 18 and under to receive the free meals instead of only those who were eligible for a free and reduced lunch.

“That was very good. At these distribution points, we did not have to look at taking names and spending more time on that process. We would just count the number of meals being distributed. We will be reimbursed for those meals regardless,” he said.

In Massena’s case, they ended up preparing meals for 420 people.

“The staff has been excellent. They’ve worked very hard at providing a great service for students and their families. Everyone has been very supportive,” Mr. Brady said.

He said the state Education Department initially wanted districts to distribute meals on a daily basis, and would allow reimbursement on that condition.

“Then they changed to allow that meals could be distributed and reimbursed on a two-day basis so that you could distribute one day for two days. That allowed for districts to use a three-day-a-week process instead of five, which is a safer situation because we are trying to keep social distancing. These are changes that have been based on keeping the staff, as well as our community safe. Less days means less exposure and less of a chance of exposure to the virus. That’s why in quick order you saw most districts in the region go from five days to three,” he said.

Food service directors in many districts, including Massena, are coordinating their efforts through the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Food Service Program.

“We’re trying to create a consistent, coordinated effort so there aren’t major changes from community to community. There will be some based on different conditions in those specific school districts. But, by and large I think we’ll see consistent efforts,” Mr. Brady said.

He said the state Education Department is now allowing districts to distribute on Monday for an entire week.

“No decisions have been made on that schedule, but that is an option now that the state Education Department has put out there. That is an option that will be discussed locally, but no decisions have been made. It goes back to trying to keep staff and community as safe as we can and limiting the possibility for exposure,” he said. As different factors come before us down the road, we will need to continually adapt to do the best we can to provide these meals that are definitely needed.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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(1) comment

juswondering

I am all for helping the less fortunate that this food truly enhances their well being however, it disturbing to me to see students picking up free food in a luxury SUV that is second only to the Cadillac Escalade in vehicle cost. Where are these peoples values? They jumped in the family truckster, drive down to the food distribution point, take their food home and eat it? Seems shameful that the parents can not provide these meals to their family. That is what this picture said to me......

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