El Reno child nutrition team puts own needs aside to serve meals to students
While they might not fit the common mold as a frontline fighter in the battle to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the work being done by the El Reno Public Schools food service team is nothing short of heroic.
Friday is School Lunch Hero Day across the nation, but for the 18 people making up the El Reno team, it’s another day to serve a greater need.
“I think every single one of them are heroes. We are talking about normal, hardworking people that love kids and have been coming to work every day. I think when they step in the door and take off their jackets there should be a red ‘S’ on every one of their shirts because they are all Superman in my mind.
“They have never hesitated or asked, ‘What about me?’ They have never brought up a concern, they have just done a phenomenal job with a smile on their face and one in their hearts. From the ladies cooking the meals to the men and women handing them out,” said El Reno Superintendent Craig McVay.
El Reno began serving meals to kids March 23 when it was determined that students would not return to classes the week following spring break. Five days a week, the team has been providing meals at four school buildings as well as four remote sites across the city out of two vans.
On Fridays, a third truck is added to the remote sites to hand out bags of food to cover students over the weekend. The same bags are handed out to those students using the drive-up service at the school sites.
Monday was the 27th day the district has been providing meals, missing just one for Good Friday. Extra food was handed out the day before to cover the long holiday weekend.
El Reno has stepped up beyond the normal offering off food from other districts, adding hot meals such as hot dogs, hamburgers and barbecue sandwiches to its offerings.
“It’s more special now because we know some of the kids may not have any meals if we don’t feed them. When we are in regular school, we can make sure they get a meal every day, but with what's going on, this makes what we do even more special.
“This is what our job is, feeding kids and we are blessed to be able to do it,” said Roblyer Learning Center accountant Carole Davis.
Preparations begin each day around 7:30 a.m. with thousands of bags of food being prepared for each site and the remote vans. School sites serve from 9 to 11:30 a.m., while the last remote sites food distribution runs from 9 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.
“We are taking extra precautions because we all have families to go home to, but I love to serve food to the kids. It’s special but a different kind of special now,” said RLC’s Adela Torres.
From food preparation through distribution, extra precautions are being used to battle the spread of COVID-19. Everyone routinely washes and sanitizes hands while gloves and masks are worn. All surfaces in the kitchens and remote vans are cleaned and sanitized and temperatures of food and milk are kept according to health department regulations.
Workers showing any symptoms of the virus are told not to report for work.
“It’s a different routine for us and it’s a little scary because we are putting ourselves at risk. We have been coughed on and sneezed on when handing out the meals, but praise God, none of us have gotten sick.
“It’s a labor of love and it’s a risk that we are willing to take because that’s what we are here for and it’s our calling to feed the kids,” said Davis.
Despite the risk, both Torres and Davis say each and every person on the team enjoys seeing the kids each day and they also love being considered essential.
“I think we are essential. I’ve worked in food service for about 15 years now in two districts in Texas and El Reno and this is the first time we have been called essential,” said Davis.
El Reno Public Schools Community Outreach Director Brooke Robertson says the district has gone from 400 students in the early days to an average of more than 900 per day as of April 24. Each student is given a breakfast and a lunch sack for an average of more than 1,800 meals daily.
Adding in the weekend meal bags, El Reno is serving on average 11,000 meals per week.
The highest student count was 1,630 the Thursday before Good Friday. Robertson said the district has served approximately 23,000 students through April 24.
“The challenge right now is getting what food we can get from the distributors. It’s not a problem of paying for it because we have the funds, it’s just finding the companies that have the food to send us because there are so many districts out there serving more meals than they have before,” said Robertson.
She added the district is also accepting food donations for the weekend bags but asks those donating to bring items that are individually packaged in order to serve more students.