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Fairfield school cooks deliver 4,000 meals for remote learners

Cars line up to receive packaged meals in the parking lot of Fairfield Middle School on Monday night. The district’s cooks made 4,000 meals that day, 10 meals for each of the 400 students who have signed up for the free program. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Hawkins)
Cars line up to receive packaged meals in the parking lot of Fairfield Middle School on Monday night. The district’s cooks made 4,000 meals that day, 10 meals for each of the 400 students who have signed up for the free program. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Hawkins)

FAIRFIELD – The cooks in the Fairfield Community School District had a long day Monday.

It was the first day of the district going fully online in response to spiking COVID-19 cases, and it meant the lunch crew had to prepare 4,000 meals so that the students had enough to eat for the rest of the week. The cooks worked from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. when the last car rolled through the parking lot of Fairfield Middle School to pick up the meals.

Each student who requested received 10 meals, five breakfasts and five lunches, free of charge. Fairfield food services director Stephanie Hawkins said 400 students have signed up to receive school lunches even as the district’s cafeterias are closed.

It’s a far cry from the number of students who would eat school meals during a normal year. Last year, Hawkins said the district served about 1,100 lunches per day until the pandemic hit.

The cooks will get a much deserved week off next week because school is not in session, but what happens the week after that is still a mystery.

The district hasn’t announced if it will remain fully online or whether some or all of the buildings will return to a hybrid model of half in-person and half online instruction, the way the district started the year.

Hawkins said administrators hope to make an announcement early next week.

In the meantime, the district’s cooks are hard at working preparing food for the week of Nov. 30. Hawkins said the need to place the meals in sealed packages, 10 meals to a bag, has made it tricky to offer the full panoply of dishes the chefs would like. For instance, Hawkins said packaging soup would be a nightmare because the weight of the bowls would crush the items on the bottom.

“We sit down as a staff and talk about what works. That’s what we did Tuesday morning,” Hawkins said. “We want to know how we can make this better for our kids.”

Whether virtual classes continue beyond Nov. 30 or not, the district will host meal pickup at the middle school. That’s what it did before the district went fully online.

From 5-6 p.m. on Mondays, students who had chosen to do fully virtual learning, or those who weren’t even enrolled in the school but qualified because they were between 2-18 years old and lived in the county, came to pick up a week’s worth of meals. Students who attended hybrid courses took home a few days’ worth of meals on either Tuesday or Friday, depending on which days of the week they were in class.

With more students needing to pick up meals, the district added an hour to the pickup window Monday so that it was from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Hawkins said the district plans to keep that schedule as long as classes remain fully online.

Hawkins reminds parents that there is now no charge to eat meals at the school, and in fact she encourages parents to take advantage of the meals because it helps the school’s finances. The district receives more money for each student it serves than it costs to supply thanks to reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The district is not offering meal delivery to homes, or at least not yet. Hawkins said the district delivered meals to rural families who requested it during the last school year when the pandemic forced all classes online. She said that if the district remains fully online for long, it would consider delivering meals once again.