Poudre School District has set up more than 70 meal distribution sites to help serve breakfast and lunch for free to any student in Northern Colorado during remote learning.
Almost 80 meal pick-up locations are listed on the district website, all open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, every day school is in session. Anyone under the age of 18 can get a sack lunch and breakfast for the next morning from any of these sites, the district’s Director of Child Nutrition Craig Schneider said.
“We’ve seen increases in participation every day since last Monday,” when they started, Schneider said. So far, they’ve served about 2,200 meals per day. “It’s been exciting to see participation grow.”
For a full list of all meal distribution sites, visit www.psdschools.org/psd2020-21/mealsremotelearning.
District employees handing out meals are equipped with masks and face shields, and students and families coming to get meals are asked to maintain social distancing in line and wear masks.
As of this week, the district is able to give meals to all children under the age of 18 for free, thanks to new rules announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Initially, the district was only allowed to give meals to students, had to track which students got meals using their student numbers, and those who did not qualify for the free and reduced lunch program had to pay for meals, as they would in the cafeteria, Schneider said.
Under the USDA program, the district will get reimbursed for all meals instead of families having to pay for those, Schneider said.
With all PSD students set to learn remotely through at least Oct. 16, Schneider said they’ve expanded their mobile meal sites using PSD school buses to bring meals to dozens of off-site locations.
“We wanted to cover as much of the community as possible,” Schneider said.
They’ve worked on identifying areas where families live — which may not be near a school — and stationed staffed school buses stocked with sack meals to make sure families who don’t live near schools still have easy access to this service, Schneider said. They’ve also been able to reassign bus drivers to help with meal distribution at a time when their regular job isn’t necessary.
“It’s really about getting meals to families where they need them,” Schneider said.
Every location has the same daily menu, but the menu varies every day. Schneider said they wanted to make sure they were still giving students and families a variety of meal choices and providing hot and cold options, like they would see in the cafeteria.
During the school year, the district serves about 12,000 meals per day compared to the about 2,200 currently being served per day now.
Though access issues may play a role in that decrease, Schneider said some families or children might find it easier to cook at home during remote learning.
Regardless, “we want to make sure that, on every school day, they have an option here,” Schneider said.
The same will be true if remote learning continues in some form after Oct. 16, Schneider said. After that date, the district could either continue with full remote learning, have some in-person and some remote learning, or bring students back in-person full time.
Families are required to wear masks while picking up food. Some stay on school grounds for a picnic and break from remote learning, Schneider said.
PSD parent Mike Farmer brought his two children, Makena and Elsa, and their friend to Zach Elementary on Tuesday to pick up lunch and have a picnic outside the school.
Makena, a fourth-grade student at Zach Elementary, said she missed going to school and it felt good to be back, even just for a picnic outside.
Farmer said they’d likely make these lunch breaks a habit this fall to give the kids time to run around outside and a break from the screen time required for remote learning.
“It’s great to get out of the house,” Farmer said.
Sady Swanson covers crime, courts, public safety and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support our work and local journalism with a digital subscription at Coloradoan.com/subscribe.