District uses its fleet of buses to bring meals to students during shutdown
VANCOUVER — There was the planning, and the execution.
And an immediate feeling of pride, for doing something to help during a time that very few could have even imagined just a few weeks ago.
Evergreen Public Schools focused on a new mission Tuesday.
Instead of sending out buses to pick up children and bring them back to campuses in the morning, bus drivers delivered meals to the students throughout east Vancouver neighborhoods.
“We knew we could do it,” said Yvonne Gaylord, transportation director for the district. “We can make the impossible happen for our students. We do it every day. There was no hesitation at all. We jumped in and started planning.”
In all, the district prepared 8,000 meals.
The plan was for all elementary school routes to run as normal in the morning, with students (and parents) waiting at the stops to pick up breakfast and lunch. For families within walking distance of the campuses, there were to-go meals at the schools, as well.
“I’m extremely proud,” said Jen Misfeldt, director of nutritional services for the district. “We spent all weekend (planning.) It was just communication all through the weekend.”
The district had to plan the meals, make sure it was following laws and guidelines for food safety and delivery, plus had to get the word out to parents. They tasked their translators to advise Spanish and Russian students as well.
When it was announced that schools would be closed through April 24, districts throughout the state had to come up with a plan for students who rely on their schools for one or two meals a day.
“As we were all discovering how this all was going to be playing out across our community, across our country, we started thinking about how are we going to continue feeding the kids,” Misfeldt said. “The instruction we were hearing was ‘close the schools but continue feeding the kids.’”
But how does a district accomplish that in these unprecedented times for this community?
The district has a meal program in the summer months but families must come to the schools to pick up the food.
“Our experience over the years, it’s hard to get kids to come to sites,” said Mike Merlino, the district’s superintendent. “We came up with the idea of taking the food to the students rather than having the students come to us.”
It is not just for the students, though. It is for district employees to come together, to help during this crisis.
“From the perspective of the bus drivers … they want to do their part,” Merlino said.
In fact, Clark County Today was able to ride along with Kathy Young, who has been driving a bus for 20 years. On Tuesday, she went on her normal routes, with stops for Image Elementary and then Orchards Elementary.
Dozens of meals were handed out on this first day.
“I’m feeling, ‘Wow.’ It’s overwhelming,” Young said after she handed out the first meals.
“We’re really contributing,” Young said. “We’re like a family. Co-workers are the same as your family. This is very out-of-the-norm, but it’s gratifying that we get to try to do this for our kids, and we get to see our kids.”
Bus drivers are like teachers in that way, describing the students they see every day as their kids. When school was closed, they weren’t sure when they would see “their” children again.
It turns out, they will see some of their students every school day. Evergreen plans to continue the delivery service every day that school would have been in session.
“Until we’re told otherwise,” Gaylord said. “We’ve got to feed our students.”
For Tuesday, cereal and milk was delivered for breakfast. For lunch: “Power packs,” Misfeldt said. “Essentially a copycat of a Lunchable.”
In this case, a pizza lunchable with tortilla, sauce, cheese, and meat. Plus a vegetable and fruit.
Whitney Carroll, a mother of three, appreciated the service.
“I think this is very cool. It gives the kids a routine,” she said.
She told Young that she and her children will be there every day.
“We get our lunch, and we get to take a walk together,” Carroll said.
Yet another benefit for some families. After all, with this shutdown, everybody’s normal routine will have to change.
The district wants to get the word out to parents that this can be a part of every-day life, at least every “school day” during the crisis.
And those who work for Evergreen Schools are there to help.
“I’m extremely proud of my bus drivers, my office staff, and the entire district,” Gaylord said. “What we are doing for our students is amazing. The teamwork … I couldn’t ask for a better district. Amazing people. Amazing.”