• June 1, 2020

Goliad has meal pick up down to a science - Odessa American: Education

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Goliad has meal pick up down to a science

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Posted: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 4:38 pm

Since March 17, the Ector County ISD School Nutrition Department has served 348,687 meals to the children of Odessa and it’s all being done at the acceptable social distance of six feet apart.

Brandon Reyes, director of the School Nutrition Department, has been trying to get out to every site and Wednesday he was at Goliad Elementary School, which he said has the distribution down to a science. ECISD began providing meals after campuses were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 348,687 figure is as of April 7.

Reyes noted that about 55 percent of ECISD’s 34,000 students live in poverty.

Breakfast and lunch is provided to any child 18 and under who comes to one of the campuses. The department informs people on social media and its website of any sites that have stopped serving. Waivers now allow a parent to pick up meals without a child being present.

“We have that posted on our social media sites what documents we can use to validate, but even with my team validating those documents we have to maintain the social distancing and protect ourselves so I think that’s a wonderful flexibility they’ve allowed us to offer because it is difficult for some parents,” Reyes said.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“There’s a definite need,” Reyes said. “We opened up as many sites as we could originally so that we would be able to reach the widest group possible. Some school districts localized it to a handful of sites. We’re not doing the bus routes. We’re not doing anything like that. We’re doing sites that we can maintain control (of) during meal service and reach the widest group possible.”

Meal distribution requires a lot of prep work so adjustments have to be made on the fly sometimes. Austin and Zavala elementary schools are no longer meal sites.

The move was made at Austin due to staffing and low turnout and Zavala is being transitioned to a child care site for local medical personnel, a tweet from the School Nutrition Department said.

Reyes said they try to get the word out about changes as quickly as possible.

The department will again provide meals for the weekend starting Thursday. With Friday being a holiday, meals for the weekend will be distributed Thursday.

“USDA and TDA are working through the language and I’m pretty confident that they’re going to come through, so right now I can actually serve the weekend meals. But the problem is we won’t get the federal reimbursement for those meals and so if we serve 20,000 meals a day, 40,000 meals over a week, that’s roughly about $50,000-$55,000 in food costs that the government right now allows us to serve. But we may not be able to recoup the cost for some of those meals, so you kind of take that hit, but we’re very confident that they’re going to come out with retroactively allowing us to serve the weekend meals because they recognize the need,” Reyes said.

USDA is the U.S. Department of Agriculture and TDA is the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Reyes noted that the district meals are one way for families to extend their home food inventories at a time when people are being told to minimize trips to the grocery store.

“I personally believe it’s much safer for our family members because our folks set the meals on the table, the family pulls up, they get out, we’re able to maintain that social distance,” Reyes said.

Families drive up and signal how many children they have and nutrition staff at that school pulls breakfast and lunch from the holding area, puts it on a table and the parent gets out of the vehicle, grabs the meals and goes on their way. The table is wiped off after every pick up.

In the grocery store, despite people’s best efforts, they still cross paths. Plus, he said, more and more grocery store workers are being identified as positive for COVID-19.

“We’re very cognizant of that, as well, so we’re just trying to maintain a delivery process that is safe for everybody,” Reyes said.

He added that the community has been very positive, understanding and patient with the school nutrition department.

“They understand we’re doing the best we can to help everybody out, so they’ve been very receptive and patient with us and so we’re very grateful,” Reyes said.

At each of the sites, there are systems in place so the food preparation goes on as normal.

“The only thing that’s different is we have three to four individuals working at any given time, because as you are aware, doing meal prep we also have to maintain that social distance so it gets a little tricky on how we do that …,” Reyes said.

He added that he has authorized his team to work as many hours as they need to in order to make sure they are able to maintain that social distance and get the meals ready to provide to the community. Children are provided with the meals they would normally get if they were in school.

Reyes said Goliad has the food distribution down to a science in the kitchen and the way the outside distribution is set up.

Joann Mendoza, ECISD school nutrition manager, said the employees are a team and a family.

“It’s hard, especially that they want us to be even six feet away from the people we work with. … Like I said, we’re a family so for us to be that far apart we know we’re all scared but at the same time we try to make it as a joke like six feet apart remember?” Mendoza said.

She added that she is missing a little piece of her team which is helping at another school.

There are usually five team members all together, including Mendoza.

Even though it’s a scary time, Mendoza said she feels like they are making a difference.

“We can’t help everybody by taking it to their house, but we can make a difference by just helping one. That’s the way we look at it,” she said.

Megan Qualls, who drove up for a meal pickup, said she home schools her children.

“I think it’s great because a lot of people don’t have to worry about where their breakfast and lunch is going to come from,” Qualls said.

Odessa, TX

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