With school districts around the country closing their campuses to prevent spread of the coronavirus, many are asking what happens for those children who rely on schools for a substantial amount of their daily nutrition. One school district has found a solution that restaurants have long used: drive-thrus. The Elk Grove Unified School District in California is offering a drive-thru meal service for all of its families from 13 of its high-poverty schools for each day the district is closed. The service operates between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and is open to all children, says Michelle Drake, director of nutrition services.
“We’re treating it kind of like the way the Seemless Summer option works,” she explains, “so if there’s a child 18 years or younger in the car, we’ll provide that child with lunch for today and breakfast for tomorrow.”
She says the child doesn’t have to be from the Elk Grove district, though as at the moment it is the only one in the area closed due to the coronavirus, children from other districts would be at school during the drive-thru service time.
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The meals initially were assembled in the district’s central kitchen from ingredients that are on hand, she says. They have perishable components and are stored in temp-controlled containers at the pickup sites.
Selections include Lunchable-type items with components like turkey cubes, cheese and crackers and pizza, a Wow-butter sandwich, yogurt parfaits and fresh fruits like orange wedges, broccoli florettes and apple slices. Replenishment of stock isn’t a problem at present.
“All our vendors are still servicing,” Drake says. “We talked to them to make sure we could still get deliveries because our district needed to continue to do this as long as our vendors can continue to provide us fresh produce.”
The program launched on Tue., March 10, following a weekend brainstorming session that came up with the idea, and then getting the requisite approvals and waivers from the district and the California Department of Education on Monday.
“My team and I came to work on Sunday after the district decided it was closing, and we just put our minds to [the problem of feeding kids during the closure], about what would be the easiest way to provide the service and how would do it that would be most beneficial to our district,” Drake recalls. “I have a great team and when we put our heads together, this is what came up.”
She then talked to the staff and had people willing to work to build the meals and two at each school site to do the serving.
Drake says she estimated how many meals to send to each of the sites based on history with summer feeding. The average school right now is serving 65 to 100 meals, she says.
Because the meals have perishable components, “they only roll out as many as they need for a few minutes at a time.” If replenishment is needed, a call to the central kitchen sends a delivery with more.
The service was promoted to district families through the school messaging systems as well on the district website and district social media.