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Buchanan Community Schools finds unique solution to serving food during remote learning

BUCHANAN — During COVID-19 shutdowns, Buchanan Community Schools leadership moved swiftly to address the needs voiced throughout its school community. One of those needs was a lunch delivery to not only the students in more rural parts of the school district, but also those in town.

Lunch pick-up sites during remote learning have been one solution to distribute meals to students in need. Becky Kaltenbach, director of food services at BCS, and Patricia Robinson, superintendent of BCS, wanted to help keep the transportation department working through the switch to remote. Kaltenbach originally wanted to deliver lunches to students in the more rural parts of the community, who could not get to the central pick up points. After a survey went out to parents and guardians, Kaltenbach saw a wider need to fill.

“We put out a survey to parents, to see how many of them would appreciate [meal drop-offs for students],” Kaltenbach said.

The responses were not just from parents of students in the remote areas of the school system, as intended. Kaltenbach said other challenges came to light through the responses.

“Their kids had to be on Google Meet and Google Classrooms [during pick up times],” Kaltenbach said. “They were unable to leave to pick up lunches.”

During the spring mandated shutdowns of in-person learning, schools adapted to bringing food to more populated, remote areas of town such as mobile home parks. As remote learning has changed, and COVID-19 case counts have risen, the needs of the community seemed to shift.

Many parents said they were unable to pick up the lunches for their children, and some were in isolation or quarantine themselves due to a COVID-19 exposure or positive test.

“We offered lunch pick up at two school locations, at Ottawa Elementary and Buchanan High School,” Kaltenbach said. “We decided, if they need it too — we took the responses. I sat down with the bus drivers, and we made routes based on the addresses people gave us.”

The bus routes were created quickly, and the processes for getting the meals out began.

“[The food service staff] packs all the lunches up at the middle school,” Robinson said. “It’s a hot lunch. There’s an assembly line from the food service, custodial and paraprofessionals working in the buildings, who now have extra time to help.”

Robinson said others, like building principals, have been helping out as well.

“They packed the lunches up and go out and deliver them to families,” Robinson said.

The effort begins at 7 a.m., when the staff of around eight people arrives to start putting together a cold breakfast for students to enjoy the next day, after they eat the warm lunch that accompanies it.

The cold breakfast contains a small milk carton, a juice or fruit, cereal, cereal bar or whole grain breakfast pastry.

“It’s a simple breakfast,” Kaltenbach said.

Following the packing of the breakfasts, the staff makes the hot lunches, and by 10 a.m., they are ready to package them into to-go containers. The containers are closed and loaded onto buses in insulated containers by 10:30 a.m., and 15 minutes later, they are off to be delivered at front doors or drop-off points for students to come out and pick up.

The routes take between an hour and a half to an hour and 45 minutes to complete, with each route delivering between 80 to 100 meals per day.

“We are doing 380 deliveries per day,” Kaltenbach said.

There are another 120 to 130 people able to pick-up hot lunches at the pickup points in town. Both Kaltenbach and Robinson stepped into their roles with the Buchanan Community School district on Aug. 1. Problem solving has been on their plate since they began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were able to make it work,” Robinson said. “We are already thinking about how we can change and streamline things, if by chance we are [out of the classroom] in January. ‘How do we make this safe for our employees?’ But while we can, during this time, this is the best thing we can offer our families and our community.”

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