Like all school districts in Oregon, Morrow County School District is grappling with many issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent statewide school closure. District staff are navigating information from state agencies, creating a distance learning program, helping families with Internet access and getting teachers connected with students, among countless other tasks and priorities.
They are also feeding students – a lot of them. According to Director of Educational Services Marie Shimer, during the first week of the closure back in March, the district was serving 300 students a day. Last week, they averaged serving just under 1,500 students a day. In the first five weeks, they have served over 21,000 meals to students.
Morrow County School District has schools in three different communities – Boardman, Heppner and Irrigon. Meals are served in all three – at Sam Boardman Elementary, Heppner Jr/Sr High and A.C. Houghton Elementary. At those school kitchens, meals are served on a grab-and-go basis where students pick up breakfast, lunch and a snack each day. On Fridays, students get meals for three days. Meals are also handed out along bus routes in all three communities, so families can meet the bus along the route if it’s not convenient for them to travel to the school buildings.
So, who is preparing the food and handing it out? In addition to regular food service staff, the district has tapped all types of district employees to help with meal production and delivery – custodians, classified employees, district staff, teachers and coaches. Community partners like Head Start, CARE, Mid-Columbia Bus Company and Migrant Education Program staff from InterMountain Education Service District are also helping.
“During this uncertain and trying time for so many of our families, meals are essential,” said Shimer. “Yes, it’s mandated by the state of Oregon that districts do this, but even this small connection to their schools and telling them they are missed is helpful for kids.”