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Hundreds Benefit From EUSD Weekly Lunches Distribution
District office employee Kristin Tiger reaches into the shelving unit for another bag of food on Thursday at Dent Elementary School while Michelle Grossi, right, comes in for a bag and other crew members Robert Fyke and Linda Johnston deliver food curbside in the background. Marg Jackson/The Times

There were 700 bags of food – each containing five days’ worth of lunches – ready to be distributed from a central location at Dent Elementary School on Thursday.

In the second such distribution of food for students out of school and sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic, Escalon Unified School District Food Service Director Shelli Nicholas said more than 500 of the bags were picked up.

Distribution ran from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, March 26 at the bus circle at Dent, with families from all schools in the district able to come and pick up the lunches.

The program is for those ages one to 18 – with no income eligibility requirements at this time; you don’t need to be on a free or reduced price meal plan at the school to receive the lunches.

A small army of school personnel was on hand Thursday for the distribution, checking in families as they arrived in their vehicles and each receiving a bag of five lunches for every child in the vehicle. Set up drive-through style, parents and children did not leave their cars; the meals were handed in through the window.

Also, the Escalon Starbucks donated several gallons of milk and a variety of pastries and breakfast items that were also provided to families while they lasted and the local MarVal Main Street Market provided the majority of the bags to pack the lunches in.

Along with the bags of food, there were also donations taken to Van Allen Elementary School for families in the Van Allen and Farmington school areas to help out.

While Nicholas and Tracy Byrd worked to keep the bags organized inside the Dent cafeteria, those assisting with the distribution on Thursday included Dent Assistant Principal Robert Fyke, and staff members with a number of different job titles from a variety of school sites including Krystal Rodriguez, Kristin Tiger, Linda Johnston, Michelle Grossi and Cindy Davis.

Each bag contained five entrees, five fruits, five individual milk cartons, fresh vegetables, juice and also a few extra goodies.

The first week, a total of 640 bags were given out so officials upped the number to 700 for the March 26 event. Nicholas said they did hand out more than 500 but the number was down some from the first week. For the Thursday, April 2 distribution, they are planning for 550.

“But we are prepared to do more if we need to,” Nicholas said.

She added that the Thursday giveaway, again from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., will include six days’ worth of meals instead of five.

“That will take us up to Good Friday,” she explained.

The following week, April 13 through 17, is Spring Break Week so there would have been no school; therefore, no lunches will be provided for that week.

Nicholas said while they would like to be able to have the distribution at a number of sites, it is in the best interests of all concerned to confine it to one location.

“We want to limit staff, parent and student exposure,” she said.

The first distribution day featured lunch giveaways at Collegeville, Farmington and Dent; this past week just Dent was utilized and she said that will likely be the plan going forward, for as long as they need to provide the lunches.

Nicholas said the school district will do an “email and phone blast” on Wednesday to remind families about the Thursday distribution.

“Everything we are doing now is what we call ‘shelf-able’, lunch kits,” Nicholas added of the easy to store and eat meals. “I feel like every week, it (the effort) is going to get more streamlined.”

Alba Garcia picked up some meals Thursday and said she was grateful, noting that it definitely helps to have the lunches readily available for children.

Workers stayed busy on Thursday, the meal bags flowing smoothly.

“Eerie,” admitted Krystal Rodriguez of the overall feel, noting that it was hard to see families from afar and not be able to hug students.

Still, she is grateful for the opportunity to help out.

“We are blessed to be able to do this,” added Cindy Davis, happy that the food is going to those in need at this time.

A variety of food and beverage items were included in each bag, enough to make up five lunches for kids currently home from school. Marg Jackson/The Times
Krystal Rodriguez, in red, keeps track of the families coming in for school lunches on Thursday as volunteers deliver curbside; they handed out over 500 bags of food, each packed with five lunches. Marg Jackson/The Times