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Forest Grove rallies to support Jose Cassady's efforts to feed kids without school lunches due to the coronavirus.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Jose Cassady, owner of Forest Grove Sandwich Shop, hands free sandwich bags to a child on Wednesday, March 18 as part of his efforts to help kids affected by school closures as a result of the spread of the novel coronavirus.When he heard schools were shutting down to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, Jose Cassady knew it might put kids at risk of losing much-needed free and reduced-price school meals.

"Knowing that these kids need to eat and school is out, I wanted to help in a way that I could," Cassady said.

He has been running the Forest Grove Sandwich Shop since January when he took over for the previous owners of the food truck located at 1821 Main St.

On Friday, March 13, Cassady posted a message on Facebook stating that he would sell kid's meals, which are typically $4.50, at half price while the school closure is in effect.

"I wanted to give them all out for free from the very beginning," Cassady said, adding that his friends told him, "'That's beautiful, and I love your heart, but you're going to go bankrupt if you do that.'"

His friends agreed selling the meals for half price was a better financial idea. But they didn't expect the community would immediately react to his Facebook post in support, donating more than $750 in a couple of days to help him buy ingredients so that he could give out the meals for free.

Cassady went shopping on Sunday to buy ingredients to make meals with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fruit leathers (because most of the fresh fruit was sold out), chips and a juice box.

"That was an amazing shopping spree," Cassady said in a post on Facebook, thanking everyone who donated. A few people gave him "dirty looks" because they thought he was hoarding food, but once he explained the food was to help kids, they were appreciative, he said.

On Monday, Cassady gave out 40 meals to kids whose families needed the extra help. He has continued to give out the free meals using donations each day since.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Jose Cassady, owner of Forest Grove Sandwich Shop, makes a sandwich on Wednesday, March 18 at his food truck located at 1821 Main St.School districts must continue nutrition services while the closure is in effect to maintain state funding, according to a mandate from Gov. Kate Brown. On Tuesday, March 18, Brown extended an initial school closure through April 28.

The Forest Grove and Hillsboro school districts set up locations where students can receive breakfast and lunch during the initial closure through March, and district officials say they're working on a plan to continue those services through the extended shutdown. Students in the Banks School District can receive lunches at the Forest Grove pick up locations, but the district covers a 450-square-mile geographic area, and students may need to drive more than half an hour to the pick-up locations.

Cassady is happy the districts can continue giving out meals, but he said he knows some families might not be able to take their kids to pick-up locations during the hour-long times the districts have designated.

"I'm open several hours a day, so I think it's a good alternative if someone can't pick up a school lunch," Cassady said.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Jose Cassady and his son, Jaxton, at the Forest Grove Sandwich Shop on Wednesday, March 18.Cassady said he's a single dad, and he has been through his financial difficulties at times, so he knows how hard it can be to manage unexpected expenses. A few years ago, he built his and his son's first home through a partnership with West Tuality Habitat for Humanity, a local branch of a national organization that builds homes with people in need.

Cassady said his business had taken a hit from fears about the coronavirus.

"February, I had a fantastic month," Cassady said. "At the end of the month, I said, "We did record sales this month.' It was like I got punched in the mouth that Monday morning after it all came out. I went from normally having a $200 day between 11 to 3, and to be completely honest, I made $30 that day after it was first announced in our area."

He's making sure to follow all the guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for food service workers, he said, adding that he understands that people are being advised to avoid all contact with others.

Cassady said he's committed to continuing to give out free lunches because it has become a community project.

After closing the shop on Monday, Cassady said it was "humbling" to see people drive up and donate and to see kids and families so appreciative of the free meal.

"It was pretty touching," Cassady said. "One family showed up, had a few kids with them. One kid showed up by himself. I don't know where he came from, but he was really polite. I gave him a bag, and he went down the road and ate it at a picnic table."

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