Sonoma County schools to offer drive-thru meal service to students stuck at home during coronavirus closures
A new reality in Sonoma County education will be ushered in Monday as students begin taking classes remotely to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and with it comes one of the most dynamic hurdles of prolonged campus closures - feeding thousands of children who rely on schools for food.
Santa Rosa City Schools is providing a grab-and-go breakfast and lunch program for students at its schools and at least eight other area districts at nine school sites Monday through Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Cotati-Rohnert Park, Windsor, Sonoma Valley, Healdsburg and Cloverdale are among the largest local districts launching drive-thru or pick-up services in their communities. The hours vary slightly, with some opening as early as 9 a.m.
Nearly every district is offering food to any K-12 student age 18 and under, even if they don’t attend a school in the district they pick it up from. However, federal guidelines require a student to accompany a parent or guardian, regardless if they drive up or take the food to-go.
Santa Rosa Superintendent Diann Kitamura, who oversees the largest district in Sonoma County, said the decision to offer every student a meal was to ensure no child goes hungry.
“I honestly don’t care where they come from,” she said. “I want them to be fed.”
More than 31,300 Sonoma County students, or roughly 45% of the school population, qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to the California Department of Education. Some districts even provide up to two meals during the summertime when class is not in session, underscoring the value of school-provided food.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order earlier this month that protected the budget of every school that was forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order required schools to use their funding to adjust to at-home learning and provide meals.
When spring break started last week, districts throughout the county began announcing their decision to suspend in-person instruction when classes resumed. The Sonoma County Office of Education began helping districts create plans for remote learning and meal distribution, two efforts that will finally be realized this week.
“Making sure children are fed during these uncertain times is a priority for local school districts,” county schools Superintendent Steve Herrington said in a statement Friday.
Food service is one of the few exceptions to the current shelter-in-place order issued last week by Sonoma County’s interim Public Health Officer Sundari Mase, but families are still being asked to observe social distancing rules when picking up food at a school site.
About 2,000 bundled meals are being prepared for the first distribution on Monday, said Ed Burke, Santa Rosa’s director of Child Nutrition Services. On the menu are sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch and a cereal-and-yogurt combo for breakfast.
“We’re going to be offering breakfast and lunch in a bundle,” Burke said. “That way students will have breakfast for the next day.”
Redwood Empire Food Bank is also partnering with the Santa Rosa school district on a food pantry program that will expand distribution efforts to local families. The rollout of the initiative has been slowed by a shortage of helpers.
“They are concerned about being able to gear up and provide as much as people need,” Kitamura said. “They’re lacking volunteers.”
You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @YousefBaig.