The Star-Herald

SAD 1 runs school lunch program amid COVID-19 pandemic

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Schools around Aroostook County and Maine began canceling in-person instruction en masse in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 15.

When SAD 1 released a statement around 1 p.m., it explained the cancellation, but also did something SAD 1 Superintendent Ben Greenlaw said he was incredibly proud of: announced a new school lunch program that would continue for the duration of the shutdown.

In the new program, food service staff provide students breakfasts and lunches from 11 a.m. to noon, Monday-Friday, at Presque Isle High School, Mapleton Elementary School, Pine Street Elementary School and Zippel Elementary School, as well as at five other locations around the Presque Isle area. 

Helen Beaulieu prepares lettuce in Presque Isle High School on March 19. (David Marino Jr. | Star-Herald)

The program, modeled after the district’s summer lunch program, is available to anyone 18 and younger. No registration is required and all the food is free.

When a child or person comes up to the site, we don’t ask for any paperwork. We don’t ask for their lunch status, or where they are coming from,” said Kathy Allen, the food service director of SAD 1.

Allen said the meals follow a regimen that ensures growing adolescents the nutrients they need: for lunch, two ounces of a protein, a grain, a vegetable, a fruit and milk. For breakfast, usually a grain, a fruit and milk.

She said people should not underestimate the importance of food security to learning. Its significance does not change as the more than 1,800 students in the SAD 1 school system transition from learning in the classroom to remote education.

“You have to have energy to go to school,” Allen said. “If you do not provide nutrition to your body, your mind doesn’t work well.”

Allen said her job had been “tough” since the COVID-19 outbreak: she needs to protect both her young customers and her staff from the deadly reach of the virus. 

To help ensure neither group is at-risk, she has continued to emphasize cleanliness and hygiene to her staff. She said school food service workers are always “cautious” on such matters, but that some behavior has changed, including employing social distancing when handing out food. 

Set of bagged lunches for the lunch program appears on a chair at Presque Isle High School on March 19. (David Marino | Star-Herald)

“We keep our distance,” Allen said. “We don’t do the little cuddly things that you would usually do in a lunchline with little kids.”

On Thursday, several students of various ages showed up at Presque Isle High School to pick up their lunches for that day and breakfasts for the next morning. Some students came with their parents, while older students drove themselves to the site. 

Allen said the program had gone seamlessly so far. There had not been any supply issues, though she said there had been some in the past, especially in securing bread and cereal.

Greenlaw said he decided to begin the program after the shift to remote learning because many students depend on school lunches to get fed.

“This is a stressful time for families,” Greenlaw said. “If we could help to take some of that pressure off, we can ensure that kids that typically get lunch at school will get a meal.”

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