Eagle County schools keep feeding anyone who needs it through COVID-19 crisis
Just under half of Eagle County’s public school students are on the federal free and reduced lunch program
They didn’t know the kids, but the school district staffers handing out free lunches saw the two boys were hungry, and that’s all they needed to see. So they gave them lunch.
Just under half of Eagle County’s public school students are on the federal free and reduced lunch program. While the district closed buildings through early April as a coronavirus precaution, one of the first logistical mountains to climb was feeding those kids.
So, the school district is doing what it has always done — putting food in those kids’ hands every day.
“It’s important that we keep our kids fed while we’re going through this crisis. Zero to 18 years old, we’re going to feed you,” Tony Cardona, area operations manager with nutrition services for Eagle County Schools said.
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Lunch lines go mobile
As long as the buildings are closed, the school district is handing out free lunches from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at two locations:
- Battle Mountain High School in Edwards.
- Eagle Valley High School in Gypsum.
You don’t need a student ID or lunch number. You just drive through the school’s bus loop, roll down your window, tell them how many lunches you need, and they hand them to you. If your neighbors need some, they’ll hand those to you, too.
“I know that about 40% of our student population operates on a free or reduced food program, so those kids need these meals and that’s where we step in,” Cardona, said. “This food is for anyone 18 and under.”
Cardona and Ashley Rozzi, nutrition services operations assistant manager with Eagle County Schools, were at Battle Mountain High School Monday as the program started.
Party of 445! Your lunch is ready!
They started at 11 a.m. Forty minutes later they had already handed out around 100 lunches and were making more. When they were done Monday, the school district’s nutrition program had served 445 lunches — 255 lunches at EVHS and 200 lunches at BMHS.
They said they hope to see those numbers increase, and are glad to see so many families prepared and well-stocked on groceries.
“This is the first time we’ve tried to provide daily meals when school is out of session,” said Superintendent Phil Qualman. “We’re grateful to our staff and happy to see that today went well. We don’t want any student or family going hungry during this crisis and encourage families to work together to ensure the needs of our students are met.”
The operation will be expanding soon, said Sandy Mutchler, the school district’s chief operating officer. Starting Wednesday, the Mira Bus will deliver lunches and will be serving between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Eagle River Village Mobile Home Park. A community member will deliver 13 meals to Red Cliff daily.
“A lot of kids rely on the food from school. We do have a higher population in need,” Rozzi said. “We have enough food to make many more lunches.”
Monday at Battle Mountain it was Rozzi, Cardona and a refrigerated truck. The entrée was peanut butter and jelly. Everyone in every car was asked about peanut allergies. Those who did have peanut allergies received sandwiches made with Sunbutter, which is made from sunflowers.
The school district received a shipment of produce last week before it decided to push classes online and out of the classroom for three weeks. District workers will give it away until it’s gone.
“Today and probably for the rest of the week it will be peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with fruit and milk until the milk runs out and then we have a variety of fruit and vegetables available for families to take home. Melons, pineapple, tomatoes, carrots and celery, radishes.”
Helping the helpers
As often happens in a community like this, people are already reaching out to help each other.
“If you have extra food contact us and if we can get it out to the families, we will, or we will find the right organization for it to go to, like The Community Market, so they can get it out to those in need,” Cardona said.
Yeti’s Grind in Vail had 80 gallons of milk they would not need, so they called the school district. Cardona and Rozzi finished for the day Monday and headed to Vail in their refrigerator truck to get it. Yeti’s has another 20 gallons in their Eagle restaurant. Those are headed to the program at Eagle Valley High School.
If you roll through one of the lunch lines and need a gallon of milk, they hand you one. It pairs perfectly with peanut butter and jelly.
“The response has been very positive, people have been very appreciative. It’s just our community, our community giving back and doing what they do,” Cardona said.
Cardona, Rozzi and others are working with vendors so their lunch legions are not eating peanut butter and jelly for three weeks. In the meantime, they’re happy to be out there.
“Even though these circumstances are kind of weird, it’s a nice change of pace to be out here delivering these bags of food and helping people,” Cardona said.
Randy Wyrick contributed reporting to this story
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