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Volunteers make meal deliveries easier - Odessa American: Local News

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Volunteers make meal deliveries easier

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Posted: Monday, October 19, 2020 3:30 am

With dozens of volunteers at the ready, Ector County ISD’s School Nutrition has been delivering curbside meals to families with remote learners this fall.

School Nutrition Director Brandon Reyes said without the volunteers provided by Debbie Lieb, ECISD community engagement specialist-volunteers, and staff at the campuses, they would have a more difficult time with home deliveries.

“They are vital to the success of that program and so we try to do our best to make sure that they’re taken care of. We supplement where they can’t, but if they were unable to be around it would be very, very difficult for us to do it. We’ve got 109 families, between 21 to 25 families per day, scattered. Some of the locations are in Gardendale,” Reyes said.

“We’re all over town. We tried to organize it in pockets and assign those addresses based off the distribution site,” such as Downing Elementary, Crockett Middle School and George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa, he said.

“If an address falls within those areas, we’ll look for two or three addresses in those areas and that will be the delivery route for the volunteer,” Reyes added.

Lieb said she currently has 25 volunteers for home meal deliveries, but is still looking for more. She added that she wanted to help out to make sure students were fed.

“Then beyond that, we have volunteers who were so eager to help support our schools. This is something parents and volunteers and community members can do. I got the word out and people were glad to be able to help. It’s a collaborative team effort between school nutrition, our volunteers and our community,” Lieb said.

Andrea Goodson, public affairs manager for Atmos Energy, said Lieb contacted her about helping out and asked if she could get some more Atmos employees involved.

“I was personally happy to do so and I know some of our other employees stepped up to the plate, as well,” Goodson said.

She typically picks up meals at Nimitz Middle School and delivers where they tell her to go.

“... Sometimes it’s the same; sometimes it’s different. It’s whatever the need is for ECISD and I help fill that need,” she said.

From a company point of view, Goodson said Atmos employees are happy to be back out in the community.

Farmers Insurance agent Annalisa Villarreal said she has volunteered with ECISD for the last two and a half years.

She picks up meals from Downing twice a month and makes deliveries.

“I really enjoy it,” Villarreal said. “Odessa’s been great to me. I grew up in Fort Stockton and I’ve been here since I started my business two and a half years ago, so it really feels good to be able to give back to the community that has been so welcoming of me.”

Reyes said they have six to eight sites daily where people are able to pick up breakfast and lunch daily for remote learners.

On Fridays, Reyes said, there are about four sites that have a week’s worth of meals to pick up.

“The understanding is that if you pick up the meals Friday, you don’t come to the daily sites because you’ve already got a week’s worth of meals. That’s kind of the unwritten contract we have with the public,” Reyes said.

“The reason we did that is because we have to be multifaceted in our approach. Our home deliveries, we have to obtain approval from the households first,” he added.

If a family says they are remote learners and want to be part of the program, they are emailed a consent form and they sign by Adobe Sign and send it back. Once they are approved, their dates are scheduled, but it can take a few days to get started.

Until deliveries start, Reyes said families can go to one of the delivery sites, but not after that.

“Every Friday between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., you’ll receive your delivery for your home meals which will be a week’s worth per student. Right now, we have 109 families, which equates to about 270 children and on a weekly basis we’re providing about 3,800 meals,” Reyes said.

In the classroom, he said, they are serving about 20,500 meals.

“... We’re running many different avenues at one time, but the home meals absolutely do help us reach to the remote learners,” Reyes said.

Lieb recruited people to help out.

“Ms. Lieb and her group have been very instrumental in the program. Sometimes we have it where the volunteers can’t deliver, so then it falls on us to deliver,” Reyes said.

He has made some deliveries himself.

The deliveries are contactless and insulated bags are used.

Reyes said he reached out to Lieb and she created opportunities for people to give of their time.

The School Nutrition Department is self-funded and is reimbursed for each meal provided.

Volunteers are fed breakfast and lunch, which is the same thing that’s been done at the campuses.

“We’ve opened it up where if the teachers are helping us, or anyone on campus that is assisting with our meal service operations, are provided a meal at no cost,” Reyes said.

If they’re not helping, School Nutrition will gladly sell them a meal, he said. It costs $3 for breakfast and $4 for lunch.

Reyes said some didn’t realize the food was so good, especially the green chili enchiladas.

He said the help is a big deal, especially on a campus the size of Odessa High School. Reyes added that the staff there has been amazing.

“It’s definitely a collaborative effort between our department and the campuses to help facilitate the program,” Reyes said.

The department has about 250 employees currently, which is not much different from previous years, but people have been shifted around depending on how many students are being served on a campus.

“... It does no good for us to have 14 staff members if we’re feeding 400 kids. I think the ratio is about 100 students to one,” Reyes said.

The department is also leaving positions unfilled when someone leaves.

“... We’re feeding about 9,000 less meals daily than we do in a normal year. ... We’re impacted immediately because we’re funded based off the meals that we serve. If we’re not serving any meals, we’re not getting any revenue. We’re not able to pay for the employees to be here.

“We’re completely self-funded, so that’s a pro and a con. We’re in control of our destiny ...,” Reyes said.

He added that basic business principles are being applied right now to prevent them from having to make those tough choices.

“We have one of the highest turnover rates in the district and that’s just the way it is, always been that way. I’m working on ways to help alleviate that compensation-wise, but it takes a little bit of time and buy in to do so,” he added.

He said the pandemic has been tough on everyone and food service, transportation and custodians, for example, can’t work from home. Some people haven’t returned because of COVID.

“We’ve really tried to adapt to what the parents need and the ultimate benefit is the home delivery. You work with us; we’ll work with you. The meal applications are still an important and integral part of how we’re able to do this and also the income survey. We wouldn’t probably be able to do the home delivery program if we had to charge ... Luckily, we’re able to get the meals free. That made it much easier for us to be able to implement something like this. We have to do the best we can based on the rules we have today. We were very fortunate many of the waivers have been extended through the rest of the year,” he added.

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