By Sue Moore
It isn’t just our older population that can receive meals on wheels. Schoolcraft and Vicksburg school districts have ramped up their efforts to feed students 18 and under for the three weeks while the school shutdown is in effect, and maybe even longer.
Brenda Lynn, who has been with Schoolcraft’s food service for 21 years, and Sarah Dyer, who has been employed as Vicksburg’s food service director and has been on the job for just a year and a half, have a lot in common: a passion for feeding kids nutritional meals that they really love.
They both went into action as soon as Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared March 11 that schools would have to close down until April 6.
Schoolcraft Superintendent Rusty Stitt met with Lynn and told her no matter how much it costs, the district needed to keep feeding the kids. He charged Lynn with coming up with a plan. Dyer said she just couldn’t abide by her kids who are on free and reduced lunches, going hungry (40 percent of the school’s population), so she organized her staff and administrators to get the job done. The first day for each school to serve was Wednesday, March 18, just a few days after the Governor closed the schools.
The state also went into action for feeding kids, agreeing to fund the program, given that each school throughout the state could apply for reimbursement through the summer food program.
Each food service had to figure out how to do this with school doors locked to the public. In Schoolcraft, 20 volunteers helped pack Grab and Go bags and took them to the cars as people drove up to the high school to pick up from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. or 4-6 p.m. The teams provided 136 breakfast and lunch bags which contained seven days’ worth of lunch and breakfast foods. There was eligibility requirement – just sign up, give a name, phone number and how many students in the family. Teachers Michelle Schneider, Stephanie Dunham, Shelby Getsinger and IT head James Weiss delivered the food to the Schoolcraft folks.
In Vicksburg, a survey was put out on Facebook for families to sign up. They had a choice: Pick up the bags between 4-6 p.m. at the high school or, for elementary kids, collect bags from bus drivers and a food service person who went along on the routes to hand off the bags to waiting family members. “Our servers where delighted to see the kids, as they had already missed seeing them in school each day,” Dyer reported. Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss, High School Principal Adam Brush and Shannon Hillard from the Middle School delivered the Grab and Go bundles in heavy rain on Wednesday afternoon to those who drove up to the kitchen door. Village policemen, Sgt. Guthrie and Sgt. Peterson assisted with directing traffic.
The teams delivered 283 bags of food on the bus routes and 402 to students and their families who picked up food at the door of the kitchen on the north side of the high school, a total of 685 students and 9,590 meals served. In all deliveries and preparation, helpers wore gloves, although most of the food was pre-packaged.
In Schoolcraft, Lynn figured the cost for each meal would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.50 for breakfast and $2.50 for lunch. The bags included fresh fruit, cheeses, milk, Pop Tarts, peanut butter, lasagna, and many other items.
The following week, Dyer in Vicksburg served peanut butter and jelly “Uncrustable” sandwiches which came frozen and thawed out for them. Next week it was ham and cheese and turkey and cheese subs. For breakfast it was blueberry and banana bread whole grain donuts and Pop Tarts and lots of fruits and veggies and milk, bagel rolls with cream cheese inside, cereal, some mini powdered donuts, chocolate chip French toast. It’s a weeks’ worth of food, 14 meals total.
“You don’t know how to do this until you do it,” exclaimed Brenda Lynn. “We all worked together, just like a family.”