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School Lunches Take On New Role During Pandemic
School lunches are now provided to all students in the Escalon Unified School District, and are available to all children, ages one to 18, as the region continues with COVID-19 distance learning. Here, Escalon High School assistant cafeteria manager Denise Cherry makes the delivery. Marg Jackson/The Times

As students continue with distance learning, allowances have been made to insure that they have fuel to keep their minds and bodies sharp.

All children, from ages one to 18, are being provided with free meals right now, with distribution at several school campuses. Breakfast and lunch are both provided, with a drive-thru style pick-up for parents on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Effective immediately, we are able to reapply for the Seamless Summer Feeding Option which allows us to feed all children from one to 18 free meals,” said Escalon Unified School District food service director Shelli Nicholas. “This will include breakfast and lunch. We are thrilled that the CDE recognizes the need to feed all our children.”

The distribution schedule for breakfast and lunch around the EUSD sites on Tuesdays and Thursdays is as follows:

Dent Elementary, 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.; Farmington Elementary, 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.; Collegeville Elementary, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.; El Portal Middle School, 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

“Families can pick up meals at any of the school sites listed, but may only pick up meals once on each day meals are served,” added Nicholas. “Children do not need to be present. We are offering students both breakfast and lunch at each pick-up; each provides multiple days’ worth of breakfast and lunch.”

On Thursday, Sept. 3, El Portal snack bar manager Tracy Byrd and Escalon High School assistant cafeteria manager Denise Cherry were busy getting bags of food ready. Families can pick up all students’ meals from one location, even if they have children at multiple school sites in the district.

“We planned for a lot,” Byrd said of the Thursday distribution, ahead of the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Among those driving through at the El Portal site was Jessie Lovett with daughter Jordin, an eighth grader at El Portal, and young son Jagger, 3, who also was able to get meals. Jordin, in fact, is a vegetarian, her mom said, so Jagger often gets some of her lunch, too, depending on what is on the menu.

As far as starting the school year with distance learning in place, the eighth grade student is working to adapt.

“It’s hard but I think it’s going okay,” Jordin said.

Both Byrd and Cherry are grateful that the meals are being provided to all students and even those not yet in classes, as it helps keep them busy and helps meet the dietary needs of youngsters throughout the area.

“Hopefully now that the state has ordered that everything is free, it’ll pick up and we’ll be busy the whole time,’ Byrd said.

The two also agreed that being on campuses without students has been an adjustment and they look forward to more traffic rolling through.

“On Tuesdays, we give them two meals, two breakfasts and two lunches and on Thursdays, they get three of each,” Byrd added of the distribution schedule. “We try to find some fun stuff to put in there.”

The bulk of the school lunch foods come from Gold Star and Sysco, though they also work to put in extra items if they get donations. All meals also come with fruits, vegetables and milk in addition to the entrée.

“Just feed them,” Cherry said, grateful that free meals are available to all, not just those identified as being on the free and reduced meals program for the district.

For more information, call the district’s Food Service Department at (209) 838-3170.

El Portal Middle School snack bar manager Tracy Byrd adds some apples and carrots to lunch bags, getting them ready for curbside pick-up at the First Street campus. Several schools sites are used for the distribution of lunches. Marg Jackson/The Times