School food service remains vital for local families
With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping students at home and learning from a distance, the need for free and reduced lunch among students in Newberg and Dundee has not changed. If anything, the need has been exacerbated by the economic conditions the country finds itself in on the road to recovery.
In response to the growing challenge, the Newberg School District has set up a system to deliver free meals to those in the community who need them, providing five days' worth of meals on two separate delivery days and through a pickup location at Newberg High School. With a handful of bumps in the road as far as logistics are concerned, but no worry about funding, the district is now rolling along with its food delivery program.
"We have worked a lot of the kinks out on deliveries," said Gregg Koskela, district communications coordinator. "We deliver three days of meals on Wednesdays and on Fridays we do two, so basically, we cover Monday through Friday for these students like we normally do at schools. We've made some changes toward more fresh vegetables and some healthier foods, and we've opened up a site at the high school where anyone age 1-18 can pick up meals regardless of whether or not they're a student."
The federal government extended a free food program set to expire in December through the end of the school year, so no matter how long students are learning remotely they will be provided the meals they need. The delivery aspect of the program was planned out with the help of local entities, Koskela said.
"This type of thing is something we've never done before, so we worked a lot with First Student, which runs the buses, and they knew the best routes we could go on for delivery," Koskela said. "The first few times around, the routes were unrealistic for the manpower we had, so we had to work out the best ways to deliver everyone their meals. It's not the same with everyone in different living situations all around town, whether an apartment or a home up a rural road."
Officials estimate that by the end of the school year the district will have delivered more than 500,000 meals to students. Deliveries occur on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the "open site" where young people and their parents can pick up meals runs from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays as well.
Filling a crucial need and connecting with the community in the way that the district has is rewarding, Koskela said, and the district will maintain its commitment to delivering meals for as long as is necessary throughout the school year.
"I had one parent tell us that we've made it so easy, that they're tripping over the meals when they walk out the front door," Koskela said with a laugh. "This has been helpful for their family of five and is making an important difference. What a great gift that we get to be a part of."
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