MANCHESTER — The state’s largest city will use its school buses to deliver breakfast, lunch and homework to students while schools are closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Other school districts and nonprofits across the state have come up with similar plans to help families that rely on free or reduced lunches during the school week.
The delivery routes in the Queen City are based on each school and will begin Tuesday, according to the district. Schools will be closed until April 3.
The district will prepare enough meals for its nearly 14,000 students, but will adjust depending on the demand, according to Jennifer Gillis, assistant superintendent. Almost 60 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunches.
The bagged meals will include items like cereal, fruit, milk and sandwiches.
School staff, including principals, assistant principals, teachers and nurses, along with volunteers, will be aboard the buses to help distribute the meals and classroom materials, which will come once remote learning is rolled out.
“We did have to add routes for four of our schools, which are typically walking schools,” Gillis said. “What we did was built bus routes for every single school so every single student in the city has access to a bus stop location to pick up food and/or remote learning materials.”
While instructional materials are available online, packets will be distributed to students using the same bus routes, according to the district. The routes can be found at mansd.org.
“It will range and it is meant to make sure we’re accessing all students, even those who don’t have easy access or consistent access to technology,” Gillis said. The district did a survey to assess access to computers and the internet.
The district has a system in place where teachers are either at the school building or working from home.
“This is an unprecedented health crisis, and our response is unprecedented. We ask all to please take care of yourselves and others by following the best health practices provided by the CDC, and be sure to take time to check in on others,” wrote Superintendent John Goldhardt in a letter to parents and guardians.
Concord schools will be providing lunch and breakfast for the next day every day at 11 a.m., according to a letter sent home by Frank Bass, interim superintendent.
“Buildings will be open and all staff will be on hand — though never closer than 5 feet apart — in preparation for the sheer variety and need of educational opportunities and experiences we are creating for our students,” he wrote.
Like Manchester, Barrington schools are delivering breakfast and lunch to its approximately 1,300 students under a plan developed by Fresh Picks Cafe and Shelly LaClair, food service director.
The program started on Monday using Dail Transportation, which is part of Student Transportation of America Inc. Cafe services staff helped deliver the meals, which included cereal, yogurt, fruit for breakfast and sandwiches or salad for lunch.
“We tried to go door to door as much as we possibly could,” said Superintendent Dan Moulis.
The district is looking into options to deliver classroom materials in future, if needed.
“It has been a couple of days of planning,” he said. “It just has been a great team effort.”
End 68 Hours of Hunger, a nonprofit that makes sure students have food over the weekend, is also ramping up its efforts. The organization serves more than 3,000 in seven states, including more than 35 New Hampshire towns and cities.
Melani Taillon, program coordinator in Newmarket, said families in need are able to pick up bags of food on Tuesdays and Fridays during lunchtime at the schools or have them delivered if they don’t have a car. Typically, students are sent home with a bag of food on Friday for the weekends.
“The bags are going to be beefier than they typically are,” she said. “They will have more product in there and some family meals.”
The program serves about 27 families and is asking for donations at its drop off locations.
In Manchester, the district’s plans were built off of its emergency operations plan, which includes outbreaks. Delivery was seen as the best way to respect social distancing, Gillis said.
“Everyone has really come to the table and said, ‘How can we do this?’” she said. “I have not heard anyone say we can’t do this.”
Along with students being issued work, the buses will eventually also pick up completed work and projects.
“The bus will become like a messenger,” Gillis said.
Mayor Joyce Craig spoke of the preparations on “New Hampshire Today” with Jack Heath on WGIR-AM.
“This isn’t just something that happened over the weekend. We have been working toward this,” she said.