A pair of little yellow busses are rolling up and down Centralia’s streets Monday through Friday.
Not ice-cream trucks, but Centralia R-VI school busses, delivering breakfast district students and anyone else, 18 or younger.
The district is providing sack lunches and breakfast snacks as part of its meal program to compensate for offering classes as well as in-school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic shut-down.
Wednesday, the main course was a ham and cheese sandwich, Thursday, a popcorn chicken wrap – all handmade at the district’s Centralia Elementary School kitchen. Typical sides include fresh fruit, yogurt, bagged chips or pretzels along with a choice of milk, flavored or plain as well as almond milk.
Handing out white-sacked lunches from the back of a school bus parked at Centralia Intermediate School OOPA! Employee Mercedes Dennis said it made her feel good to see the children running up to the bus.
“Their smiles make my day,” she said. “I love seeing the happy looks on the kids face as they come to the bus. Some ride their bikes, some ride here with their parents, some just walk, but they are all smiling.”
It is not just for the school district’s children said Angie Day, one of the school district’s paraprofessionals who was helping. “We’re not just serving the district’s children, anybody 18 or younger is welcome to a meal.”
The meals Day, Dennis and their bus driver Warren Faulkner were serving, were prepared by Marcia Brooks, Debbie Fricke and Dennis at Chance Elementary.
Brooks said they started work on each day’s meals at 7:30 a.m.
Thursday morning, for example, the CES cafeteria’s tables were turned into an assembly line.
After they baked approximately 1,800 pieces of popcorn chicken, they laid the wraps across the tables and began filling them and rolling them. Later, Dennis arrived to fill 300 fruit cups with grapes or carrot nibblets.
“It’s great,” Hannah Stieb, there with her daughter Luna to grab Luna’s lunch. “It’s an opportunity for parents to have a good, nutritious lunch with their children while home-schooling them as we wait for this virus to pass.”
Steven Chancellor, R-VI superintendent, said the number of children being served is steadily rising. March 23, 79 were served; March 24 – 82; March 25 – 126 and March 26 – 147.
He said the district was able to fund the meals through a program similar to the federal “Seamless Summer” program which enables schools with 50 percent or more of their students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, to offer lunches during the summer.
“We don’t meet the qualification,” Chancellor said. “However, there is a similar program and the families of Centralia Elementary Schools students hit the median income necessary to qualify. After some meetings with the Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary Education and some forbearance from the federal government, Centralia and several other similar-sized schools could enroll in the mirror program and provide sack lunches, complete with breakfast snacks for the following day to their students.”
As previously published in the Centralia Fireside Guard, the pickup points and times for the meals are:
11 – 11:40 a.m. pick up from school bus parked at Centralia Schools Central Office – 1399 E Hwy 22
11:50 – 12:30 p.m., pick up from school bus located at the South Shelter in City Park – near Booth St.
11 – 11:40 a.m., pick up from school bus located at the shelter in Jaycee Park – Allen Street
11:50 – 12:30 p.m., pick up from school bus located at Centralia Intermediate School – 550 W Lakeview
11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., pick up at Chance Elementary School. South doors ONLY entering multipurpose room – 510 S Rollins St.
“It really is amazing that we are able to feed all of our students and any other students in the area every day from 18 years old and under for free,” Alisia Sebers, director of nutrition services for Opaa!. “I think it is important to help where we can. The Centralia School District and Opaa! Food Management are partners to ensure there is no child hungry in our area while also providing a small relief to the parents. We encourage anyone to come and take advantage of this every day!
Addressing one concern, that the meals might not be accessible to rural students, especially those from one-vehicle homes, Chancellor said that concern was under discussion.
Planning and arranging the meal program was a bit of a challenge, given the time constraints, he said. “The discussions were happening parallel to those going on with the teaching staff about what they were going to teach and how would they teach it.”
Chancellor said the program will stay in place for however long the suspension of classes lasts.
“It is a great program and I am glad we are able to do it…We’re sending them good stuff and we are helping children and families that really need it.”