Amanda Jordan waves to Erin Morrison, right, after Jordan and her two children picked up meals at the former Longley Elementary School in Lewiston on Thursday. Morrison, the choir director at Lewiston High School, is one of the six volunteers who handed out breakfast and lunches to Lewiston students Thursday. “Knowing that they are school lunches, I don’t have to fight with them to eat,” Jordan said of her children Reiley, 5, and Jamison, 3. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — What does it take to prepare and deliver 5,100 meals across an entire city each day?

Aaron Louque warms his hands in front of a portable heater in between handing out meals. Todd Gendron of Easy Rent All provided the volunteers with a heater, sweatshirts and an awning to use to stay warm on Thursday, a cold wet day. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

A kitchen staff of 80. One hundred volunteers. Fourteen vans, 34 sites — and a lot of heart.

Lewiston Public Schools began delivering meals March 16, the day buildings were closed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Superintendent Todd Finn had made that the district’s priority: First, they feed children.

They did.

“Staff is taking this very seriously,” Nutrition Director Alisa Roman said Friday.

She said she was shocked by the number of meals they were able to produce: 56,000 in 11 days.

“It has exceeded my expectations,” she said. “The counts are huge. That says to me there’s a really great need.”

The need extends across the state, which has received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that allows school districts to reach more hungry children, according to a news release from the Maine Department of Education.

Aaron Louque, left, Alex Poulin, center, and Erin Morrison, pack meals to go for a waiting mother at the former Longley Elementary School in Lewiston on Thursday. Louque, Poulin and Morrison are three of the six volunteers who handed out breakfast and lunches to Lewiston students on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Under federal law, National School Lunch Program participants must have a population of at least 50% who receive free or reduced meals, according to the release.

“Maine DOE requested flexibility to locate meal distribution sites in areas that do not meet the 50% criteria to ensure that any child can receive the meals they normally would on a regular school day during unanticipated school closures related to COVID-19,” according to the DOE.

The Maine DOE has also been granted flexibility to allow schools and community partners to prepare multiple meals for several days in one package for children up to the age of 18.

In Lewiston, where more than 64% of students are economically disadvantaged, breakfast and lunch are offered Monday through Friday.

Meals are prepared at each school building to keep the number of people in each kitchen small, Roman said. So far, everyone has remained healthy and the kitchens are scoured every day.

Roman is also the transportation director for Lewiston Public Schools, so she quickly got a handle on a way to deliver meals beyond school building sites, to which not all people have access.

Buses are deployed each weekday with a Hudson Bus Line driver and a volunteer, she said.

Volunteers also work at the building sites.

Allison Lytton, president of the Lewiston Education Association (the teachers’ union), is coordinating the volunteer effort.

When teachers heard Sunday, March 15, that schools would close the next day for at least three weeks, they contacted her, Lytton said.

“About 50 members reached out and asked, ‘How can I help? I want to be doing something helpful during the closure.”

She created a Facebook page where people can sign up to volunteer.

“I’ve been able to fill every spot every day,” she said.

Tayvian Franco, 10, shares a laugh with Katie Krantz, right, Erin Morrison and Alex Poulin as Missy Gendron, second from left, hands Jordan Hutchings, 11, meals to go outside the former Longley Elementary School in Lewiston on Thursday. Krantz, Morrison, Poulin and Gendron are four of the six volunteers who handed out breakfast and lunches to Lewiston students on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

She said cafeteria managers provided gloves and shared donations of paper masks.

But more masks are needed, Roman said.

Many volunteers are wearing homemade masks, she said, but it’s not enough.

“I will make a plea to the public: If you want to make masks for us, we would love it,” she said. “Staff would wholeheartedly welcome donations.”

Masks should be machine washable so they can be reused, she said.

Because of Lewiston’s high poverty rate, it qualifies for a federal grant that allows schools to offer free meals to all students 18 or younger and up to age 21 for students who receive special education services, Roman said.

“But we don’t card people,” she said. “I’m not chasing someone down the road for an apple.”

Under federal law, meals must include fruits and vegetables, dairy and grain and meat or a meat alternative, Roman said.

“Lunch could include chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes with a salad and fruit,” she said. “We like to throw in a snack, such as an animal cracker or a Goldfish. These are kids.”

And because they’re feeding kids, kitchen managers offer something different when they can, she said.

“I love that they are going into their pantries and freezers and asking, ‘What can I do different?’”

Something different could be tacos, chop suey or make-your-own pizza supplies, Roman said.

Gov. Janet Mills’ stay-at-home order has not affected schools’ meal distribution programs, Auburn Superintendent Katy Grondin said this week.

“We’re still feeding children,” she told the School Committee on Wednesday.

Auburn distributes 750 lunches and breakfasts per day and has reduced the number of days of distribution to three per week to minimize contact, Grondin said. That means meals for Monday and Tuesday can be picked up Monday, and so on, she said.

Aaron Louque warms his hands in front of a portable heater in between handing out meals. Todd Gendron of Easy Rent All provided the volunteers with a heater, sweatshirts and an awning to use to stay warm on Thursday, a cold wet day. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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