A team of about 10 El Campo ISD food service employees wheeled carts of paper bag lunches to the curb, preparing to serve cars already lining up down the street. The employees stood ready; it was time to feed El Campo’s children.
ECISD officials announced Tuesday that the district will be closed until at least April 3 due to growing concerns over the coronavirus. With about 70 percent of students relying on free and reduced lunch during the school week, the ECISD shutdown could have meant going hungry.
“We already know that for a lot of the students throughout the school year, breakfast and lunch are maybe their only meals at all,” ECISD Interim Food Services Director Chelsea Arkadie said. “We wanted to make sure that we still provided that service for people that could come and pick it up.”
All children under the age of 18 can receive a free lunch, as long as they are present in the vehicle at the time of pick up, even if they are not an ECISD student. The Texas Department of Agriculture reimburses contractors for serving the meals.
“Yesterday we had a couple cars that had eight kids in (them),” Arkadie said. “We expected that and a little more today and made sure we could make it.”
Michelle Furch visited the drive-up for the first time on Wednesday with six children.
“It’s wonderful for the kids, because they’re going to be home a lot,” she said.
That day was also Wanda Evanicky’s first trip to get a free lunch for her grandchild.
“I think it is great,” Evanicky said.
Wednesday, more than 300 lunches and 300 breakfasts, two meals per paper bag, were served.
“I’m excited about (the program),” Food Services Manager Dalia Soto said. “I know things are hard right now.”
One student gave a hand-written card to the food service staff after he received his free meal.
“They’ve all been very thankful and very appreciative of everything,” Food Services Manager Lisa Laitkep said.
Free lunches for children are available 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday at Northside Elementary, 2610 Meadow Lane. Service is drive-through only and one child per lunch requested must be present in the vehicle.
“If anyone has any suggestions, we just want to make sure that the time works for everyone (so) that we can reach the most people,” Arkadie said. “It does seem to be working.”