Oregon school staff team up to deliver meals to students in need

COVID School

Bus driver Jody White and Head cook Lori Dyson share how they’re working together to feed hundreds of low-income kids

Jody White has been a bus driver for the Estacada School District for more than a decade — only instead of delivering students, she’s now delivering meals as part of the school’s newly established foodservice delivery program.

For White, a typical day includes arriving at the local high school at around 9 a.m. to load up with food before heading out at around 11 a.m. to deliver meals along her regular bus route. She believes that the kids find comfort in seeing the bus pull up in front of their stop.

“They love seeing the bus pull up,” White said. “It’s very exciting to them that they get lunch. They were like digging into it, going, what do we have today? It’s, it’s very fulfilling. I totally enjoy it.”

The Estacada School District’s food delivery program serves as many as 750 to 800 families per day, and White says this number is only going up as the virus continues to take its toll on the economy.

Like many schools across the country, the rural district of Estacada, Oregon, has had to rethink how it distributes meals to students in need. The district serves around 1,700 students, 50 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced breakfasts and lunches.

Courtesy of Lori Dyson

But White doesn’t work alone — she’s paired with a nutrition service worker who is responsible for handing out the lunches to kids. There are 10 nutrition service workers total who are in charge of preparing student meals and ensuring that the kids are receiving all of the required nutritional ingredients. According to head cook Lori Dyson, food shortages have made this difficult. She said even though the school has a set menu, it can often change depending on what the school’s food supplier has available.

“I’m completely doing my order completely over again cause nothing is available,” Dyson said. “So we’re just kind of winging it every day.”

But Dyson has complete confidence that the district will have enough to last the rest of the academic year, adding that they are following the same program that they use to feed kids in need during the summer. “I don’t want to say it’s become a normal thing, but everybody, we finally have the hang of it, we know what we’re doing,” she said.

Dyson is not only responsible for planning and preparing meals — but she’s also one of the nutrition service workers who accompany bus drivers on their daily route to deliver the breakfasts and lunches, which are all delivered at once. She said the trick is keeping the meals fresh along the bus route, which can be as far as an hour out. “We fill the milk as we go into our bags, and then we hand them out to our kids,” she said. Kids who typically walk to school or aren’t near a regular bus route have the option of picking their meals up at the local fire station or skate park.

Courtesy of Estacada School District

As frontline workers, both Dyson and White emphasized that everyone takes the utmost precaution. They said that the school district provides everyone with personal protective gear like gloves, masks, and plastic aprons. And, after every route, the inside of the buses are sprayed down with disinfectant and then wiped down again in the morning.

In addition to requiring face masks, school officials have also staggered bus schedules, so half the team goes out in the mornings while the other half of the team goes out in the afternoon. “We’re constantly very conscious about the safe distance and being safe and not spreading germs,” White said.

Bus drivers and food service workers also take great care in how they engage with students during this crisis. When Dyson noticed some of the students were scared of their protective masks, she and fellow workers started wearing fun ones with designs. Some crew members even go all out and dress up in silly costumes on Fridays.

Dyson said many of the kids have responded by showing up at bus stops sporting their own masks. “We’re following all of our rules and doing everything we have to, but I think our key thing is seeing our kids and having fun with our kids still,” she said.

Reporting by senior writer Tess Bonn.

This originally appeared on Medium.com