In front of Holmen High School, oldies music thumped through a speaker and green and gold balloons decorated signs along the sidewalk. A table with a “pot of gold,” centered it all, and a sign at the edge of the parking lot read: LUCKY BAG THIS WAY, with shamrocks drawn next to it.
It was the second day the district was offering free lunches to its students after it closed the doors on all its schools after a state mandate.
All Wisconsin K-12 schools, public and private, will close on Wednesday evening for at least two and a half weeks, leaving many to wonder what some kids would do without school meals, the most dependable source of food many of them have.
“When I left work on Friday, we were having school on Monday,” said Mike Gasper, the nutrition services director for the district said about the fast-evolving circumstances, “but when I got home that night, that all changed.”
Many districts in the area rapidly created plans during just a weekend to not only offer meals to students, but also find ways for them to continue learning at-home through the unprecedented breaks.
At Holmen, all six schools teamed together to create three pick-up locations, where families or students could drive-up and have a prepared bagged lunch brought to their car window.
Any student at the school can get a lunch, and anyone that lives in the district and is 18 and under can, too, like younger siblings of students or homeschooled children.
The lunch program will go until April 3. The district is not allowed by the state to serve lunch during spring break, which is April 6-10. And it will operate rain or shine.
Those interested in picking up a lunch are asked to fill out an order form or call the office, and can order for two days in advance at a time, hopefully limiting any traffic jams at the pick-up sites. But they’ll accomodate you even if you didn’t get a chance to preorder.
“I just had a lady ask if her neighbor didn't sign-up in time, can she still come,” said Sarah Mumm, the nutrition team leader at the high school, “and I said absolutely.”
All meals reach the USDA requirements, according to Gasper, and include a grain, vegetable, fruit, milk, protein and a treat — just like they’d get a school. Anyone with a food allergies or restrictions can indicate that when preordering.
Finding the good
“You know what’s cool about this,” Gasper said, “I think it says a lot about the kind of people that do this kind of work. Who realize that providing sustenance to people is just —,” he trailed off, looking at the team of ladies handing out lunches, all dressed in green St. Patrick’s Day gear and dancing to the music.
Through the difficult and uncertain times, the team aimed to offer not just meals to the students and families, but hopefully a fun distraction, as well.
One group of high school students drove up on Tuesday to receive their lunches, and found just that.
“These kids came to pick up meals,” said Gasper about a pair of high school boys who came through the line on Tuesday in their car, “and [the workers] had the music on, and one kid got up on his trunk and started dancing, and the other kid got out and was dancing.”
“They were so excited, and we had the music playing,” Mumm said, “so then they turned around and made us dance.”
The district is also continuing a tradition that they usually hold in the cafeteria of their schools, called the “lucky tray.” This time though, instead of finding a tray with a lucky marking on it, one lucky kid went home with a bagged lunch and a prize inside.
“We usually do it on Tuesday, and being it’s St. Patty’s Day and we didn’t get to celebrate,” Mumm said, “we’re trying to make it fun for ourselves as well.”
Most staff in the school district was sent home during the closures too, unclear at this time what they’ll do for at-home learning. But the nutrition team is still showing up every day.
“These ladies,” Gasper said, “even though everybody else is sitting at home getting paid right now, they’re here working because they understand the importance of taking care of those kids.”
On Monday, their first day of operations, the staff made and handed out around 200 lunches.
As a car rolled up to the station, three ladies headed to the window, and asked them how many lunches they needed. They then went to work and grabbed the order, adding milk and Dum-Dum suckers to the bag, and handing each bag one-by-one off to the family through the car window — any one of them could have been the lucky bag.
“It means a lot to these folks,” Gasper said, looking on at the process, “It’s what they do, day-in and day-out.”
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