Free school meals keep students fed during pandemic
Around 900 students in the Dartmouth Public School system depend on school for regular meals, according to School Nutrition Director Jeanne Sheridan. And with schools closed since March 16, many would have been left in the lurch.
But for Sheridan and Superintendent Bonny Gifford, keeping the kids fed was a major priority. So the two worked together to start a free “Grab and Go” meal program.
On its first day of operation on March 23, the program provided 608 meals to Dartmouth families. Now, it has provided more than 16,000.
The school system provides a two-day supply of breakfast and lunch items on Mondays and Wednesdays and a three-day supply on Fridays.
Meals are available for drive-thru pickup from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Quinn Elementary School, which is centrally located and has a large enough kitchen to accommodate the amount of food required.
"We're primarily servicing Dartmouth families," Sheridan said. "But anyone who comes, we're going to feed you."
Any families with kids aged 0-21 are eligible to receive meals, which will be reimbursed by the USDA.
“We plan to continue [serving meals] as the closure stays active,” School Business Administrator Jim Kiely said.
Sheridan attributes much of the program’s success to the ability of school staff and volunteers to efficiently work in teams.
Kitchen staff work Mondays and Wednesdays to prepare meals, which can include foods such as apple slices, cereal and sandwiches. For the most part, they provide cold meals. But some hot foods — such as pizza — are offered, and come with heating instructions.
Sylvie Melancon, a member of the kitchen staff, said she is more than willing to help make sure food is provided to families who are dealing with hard times. While she is happy to help out students, she said, she does miss seeing them at school and hearing about their days.
“It’s the part of the job I love the most,” Melancon said.
Food is packaged with the help of volunteer secretaries. School maintenance staff distribute the bags, and also check in on kids to see how they’ve been doing.
“While it’s a scary time, it’s for a good cause,” maintenance worker Joseph Medeiros said.
For those without transportation, volunteers such as Potter School Principal Heidi Brooks help make deliveries to ensure they get their meals. She says that some families rely on these meals now more than ever, since they would use SNAP benefits to cover dinners and weekends.
“We just want to make sure that everyone who needs it has it,” she said. “This way, they have options.”