MONROE — As school children try and stay busy during the Safer at Home order issued by Gov. Tony Evers that went into effect March 25, staff members at the School District of Monroe are making sure of one thing — they’re not hungry.
Schools in Monroe have been closed since March 16, when an executive order was put in place by Evers to help stop the spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus. Since then, Evers has announced that the closings will last “indefinitely.”
Director of Pupil Services Joe Monroe said the school is making and delivering about 700 meals per day to students in need. Breakfast and lunch are delivered to homes to feed about 350 children.
“We are really able to do it efficiently,” Monroe said. “I’m proud of the system we created.”
As weeks pass, that number is slowly growing, Monroe said. When the Safer at Home order went into effect, Evers also ordered all non-essential businesses to close, leaving some people out of work and small businesses grasping for creative ways to continue.
“A number of families have asked to be added,” Monroe said. “We’re doing our best to adjust our routes. We’re going to be helping out a lot of families.”
The school decided against having pick up points like some districts because Monroe said they are doing their best to practice safe social distancing. And, Monroe said a lot of families in need wouldn’t have transportation to get to those places.
Currently the school is running eight routes daily to provide breakfast and lunch to children. Each one takes about an hour, but there are a couple more rural routes that take up to two hours, he said. District vehicles are used for the eight routes — a combination of school vans and some older maintenance vehicles are put to use.
Director of Food Services Eric Ekum said two people work at opposite ends of the kitchen early each weekday to prepare the meals and practice hand washing, gloves and other safety measures.
Ekum said ordering food for the district can be difficult as several other schools also opt for prepackaged items for similar programs. However, the Monroe district is in good shape since the number of students utilizing the program is lower than he anticipated, and Ekum has prepared ahead.
“It’s a manageable number,” he said. “It’s gone really smooth.”
Ekum said he’s hearing from families how grateful they are for the services.
Ekum said on a typical school day the district serves about 2,000 meals, including breakfast and lunch in the buildings. Under the delivery breakfast and lunch program, the school is following the summer school guidelines and will be reimbursed for the meals through federal funding.
So far, the same “squad” has done the deliveries, but next week, the group will change. Monroe said they wanted to have backups to give people a break — or, in case of the event someone becomes ill.
However, finding people to help hasn’t been an issue. He said that it takes about 16 people for the deliveries — and he has a waiting list of about 75 people ready to jump in if needed.
“We have more staff than we need,” Monroe said. “I’m so proud of the response from the School District of Monroe staff — our team has stepped up and volunteered in every single way you can imagine.”
I’m so proud of the response from the School District of Monroe staff — our team has stepped up and volunteered in every single way you can imagine.Director of Pupil Services Joe Monroe
All students signed up for the program receive the same meals unless they have allergies, and those meals are labeled and packed separately, Ekum said.
The Backpack Buddies program, which is active during the school year, provides food for students over the weekend who might not otherwise have it. That program has also continued, and Monroe said they’re utilizing the delivery service to continue that.
Currently, they deliver about 275 “backpacks” which are actually bags filled with meals for students on Fridays so they have food during the weekend. Monroe said the program has also seen increased participants, and every week more people ask to be added. This program is not federally funded, and relies on donations from the community.
Monroe said businesses and organizations have been supportive with monetary donations, which is all they are currently accepting due to hygiene issues and other logistics that make food donations difficult.
“We were fortunate that we had a fund balance in our account for the program,” he said. “We feel truly fortunate to live and work in this community. These people truly do care about the kids and families of this district.”
Monetary donations can be given directly to the school or can be donated through the United Way website, Monroe said. He said that local businesses, groups and agencies have recently given to the program, which makes its future promising. Since the future of the school year is uncertain, they hope to receive more donations to continue it through the duration as numbers increase.
With questions about either the meal delivery program or Backpack Buddies, contact Monroe at firstname.lastname@example.org.