Keeping the students fed during pandemic is an arduous task

The South Fork Union School District is handing out frozen meals to students and their siblings once per week to last for five days.
Shawna Burris of the South
Fork Union School District

By Mary Lou Lang

On Wednesday, approximately 318 students drove up to the South Fork Union School District for their take-out meals that will feed them for the next five days. 

The South Fork Union School District hands out meals to the students once a week on Wednesdays, and “we give out for a five-day period,” Shawna Burris, the district’s cafeteria director told the Kern Valley Sun in a phone interview.

This past week, the cafeteria prepared 330 meals and gave out 318 to elementary and middle school students. They are current feeding 88% of their own students and another 50 kids who are students’ siblings, Burris said. A new state waiver allows schools to feed anyone under the age of 18.

Students in Burris’ district are getting five frozen meals with instructions on how to heat them up, fresh fruit, vegetables and sides that are all packaged together.

“It is a lot of work and totally worth it,” Burris said. Prior to the pandemic, students were fed every day in school. Now feeding students who are not in school has become the challenge.

“It’s easier for parents to get here once a week instead of every day,” Burris said. Still, when she thinks of the students, “it’s sad not being able to see them every day.”

Karen Watson, food services manager for Wallis Elementary and Middle Schools and Kernville Elementary, currently has van service and curbside pick-up to ensure that students are fed, and they are planning to transition to a similiar pick-up service that South Fork offers.

Watson’s van service feeds anywhere from 147 to 212 students on a daily basis. For daily curbside service that includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack, they are feeding between 100 and 140 students.

The change from school being in session is challenging, she told The Sun. When school is open, they have salad bars available that offer fresh fruit, vegetables and other foods; and students are able to choose as much and whatever they want. 

Currently, “everything has to be individually packaged,” Watson said. “It’s a lot of labor. I believe that the amount of effort that is going into feeding children right now is double, and we’re feeding half the students right now than we used to.”

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