By Juan Reyes
Solorsano Middle School seventh-grader Jason Kern took a stroll inside the cafeteria last week to pick up his lunch.
He went with a bean and cheese burrito, a salad and some chocolate milk, a good choice any day of the week.
But the only thing missing that day were his classmates and several hundred other students who were required to stay at home due to rising concerns of COVID-19 cases in Santa Clara County.
However, the Gilroy Unified School District is still providing free lunch and breakfast despite the school closures at all 17 of its sites.
Jason’s mother, Dorthy, said she thinks the free meal program is very important because there are several low-income families in the area who depend on it.
She also mentioned there are kids who have parents that might be working at the time, which means no food during the day.
“It fills their tummies to get through the day until mom or dad gets home or God forbid until the next day,” she said.
Dr. Deborah Flores, superintendent of Gilroy Unified, reported March 20 that food service staff members provided meals for more than 7,600 Gilroy families since March 16.
“One of the top essential services is nutrition and food during this closure,” Flores said.
Free breakfast and lunch for all children in Gilroy is given out at Solorsano Middle along with six other school sites from 10am to 1pm.
Other schools include South Valley Middle, Antonio Del Buono Elementary, Eliot Elementary, Glen View Elementary, Rod Kelley Elementary and Rucker Elementary.
The nutrition services program continued to provide meals at no charge for all students during the school closure. That also includes all youth 18 years old and younger.
The cafeteria staff made 365 meals on March 16, followed by 571 meals the next day.
On March 18, the number of meals skyrocketed to 1,114 and leveled off about the same the following day.
“We’re actually hoping it’s more,” Flores said. “Over time we’re hoping we have a lot more families take advantage of it.”
Gilroy Unified indicated there’s a possibility the school will reopen following spring break on April 13.
However, Gov. Gavin Newsom said during an address on March 17 that school closures throughout California may extend through a later date.
“We want to get families in the habit of coming and getting two meals a day for all their children,” Flores said. “That’s pretty major.”
Gilroy Unified follows the National School Lunch Program with certain mandates for both breakfast and lunch.
Breakfast needs to have a grain, fruit and milk, while lunch requires fruit, vegetables, protein and a grain.
NSLP is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions.
It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.
The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.
Flores said many of the families in the school district qualify for free and reduced lunch.
She said not having school in session could mean some of them going without meals.
“If we closed and they didn’t have this program, especially since many of them are going to be out of work at home … this is an essential service to our families,” Flores said.
Gilroy Unified is stressing that children don’t need to be present for adults to pick up meals on their behalf.
Flores said it’s a grab-and-go process, which makes it fast and easy for kids or grownups.
The district put together a video on its website (gilroyunified.org/novel-coronavirus-information) on how the food distribution works.
The video also includes safety precautions the team is taking to make sure families are served and safe.
At Solorsano Middle, the meals may include foods such as a ham or turkey sandwich, pizza or a bean and cheese burrito along with fruit, a salad and their choice of milk or chocolate milk.
The school sites also had hard copy packets of supplemental learning activities for each grade level.
Students who need to pick up meals and learning packets in person may do so, but meals may not be consumed on campus.
Gilroy Unified encourages families to continue to be proactive in reducing the risk of COVID-19 by not allowing anyone to congregate at the school site once meals have been distributed.
Flores said she told the entire staff at Gilroy Unified that she wants them to follow the shelter-in-place order.
“This is a unique time in our history as a nation and as a world,” she said. “Just stay home and don’t go out unless you have to, do the social distancing … if everybody does that we have a chance of keeping the numbers lower than what they could become.”