To meet high demand, Laveen district bringing lunch to some students by bus

Video by Kara Harris/Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Hundreds of thousands of Arizona schoolchildren rely on free or reduced-price lunch programs, so when schools closed last month because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many districts moved to grab-and-go offerings and drive-thru windows at schools.

In the Laveen Elementary School District, leadership looked at the logistic challenges and chose to take meals to some of their students by school bus.

Some students live too far away to drive to their schools, officials said, and some families don’t have access to reliable transportation. After working with its transportation department, the district chose 10 bus stops best suited for students who live farther away.

“One of our staff members jumps on the bus with the bus driver and the meals and then drive to the locations,” said Jennifer Gordon, district director of child nutrition. “They serve the meals for the hour that’s been allocated for the meal service and then they head back.”

She said the delivery “takes a little extra effort” because staff members are using more packaging, putting all the food in coolers to make sure it’s kept at proper temperatures.

Gordon said demand is high for the program.

As of early April, according to its Facebook page, the district had served more than 50,000 meals after Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman closed all public schools in the state.

“Hungry kids are going to be hungry today and tomorrow, so we want to make sure that we offer those services throughout the rest of the school year and then into the summer,” Gordon said.

About 70% of district students regularly qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, Gordon said.

On Monday, the district changed its meal service program, combining both breakfast and lunch. The district also offers grab-and-go meals and drive-thru or walk-up service.

On the district’s Facebook page, one parent thanked the district for moving to once-a-day pickup: “I very much appreciate it as I continue to work from home.”

Many other schools are providing free grab-and-go meals during the COVID-19 outbreak. For more information on locations, AZ Health Zone created an interactive map.

Social Justice Reporter, Washington, D.C.
News Assistant

Dylan Simard is a multimedia journalist who works as a photographer, audiographer and writer for Cronkite News. He is one of the hosts of Arizona in Focus, as well as a host for the Alexa news briefing.