Aztec, Bloomfield schools feeding students during coronavirus school shutdown
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The Aztec and Bloomfield school districts have pullled together meal distribution systems on the fly.
BLOOMFIELD — Even though schools throughout New Mexico are closed for the next three weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic, students in at least two San Juan County school districts are receiving two meals a day on weekdays.
The Aztec Municipal School District and the Bloomfield School District are setting up or have established food distribution systems to make sure students are receiving breakfast and lunch. The meals are not served hot and are not fancy, consisting mostly of such items as sandwiches, fruit and breakfast bars.
They are designed to keep students who live in remote areas from going hungry, and they meet school nutrition standards, district officials said.
The effort is part of the Supporting Schools Initiative mounted by the office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Public Education Department.
Bloomfield schools delivers at bus stops
Kim Mizell, superintendent of the Bloomfield schools, said her district passed out 1,038 meals on March 16, a number that is likely to increase as the days go by.
The meals were being distributed at Bloomfield High School for students who live in town, and those who live in far-flung locations were having meals delivered via bus routes.
Some of the district's students live as far away as Lybrook and Blanco, and Mizell worries that some of those students, in particular, may go hungry.
"When you think of our kids out on the reservation, they have no way to get to food," she said.
Mizell came up with the idea of distributing the food at bus stops.
"A lot of our kids can't get to the distribution centers," she said. "If their parents are working and they're latch-key kids, they can get to a bus stop."
A drive-thru meal service has been established at Bloomfield High School, 520 N. First St., from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays.
The nonperishable meals are prepackaged by Sysco Foods, and the meals are served at the rear entrance of the school on Blanco Boulevard. According to the district website, parents can drive to the pick-up point to collect the meals, and signs are posted to direct traffic to the exits. A map of the route is available on the district website.
The district also is providing meals via bus service at the following stops:
- Hill top
- Mangum Road
- Sullivan Road
- West Hammond
- Lee Acres
- Angustura Road
Parents are advised to watch for the bus along the route starting at 10:30 a.m. each weekday. Anyone who misses the delivery and has a child in need of a meal is advised to call 505-632-2662.
Bloomfield system a work in progress
The need for the service was obvious, Mizell said, when there was a line of parents waiting to pick up food at the high school on the morning of March 16.
The district has alerted parents to the availability of the meals through its website, social media and robocalls. Updates will be posted regularly.
Mizell said each bus is staffed with a driver and a member of the district's nutrition staff to help facilitate the distribution process and make it go more quickly.
She said the distribution system has been crafted virtually overnight and has some kinks to be worked out, but she is confident it will operate more smoothly as time goes by.
District personnel are troubleshooting problems as they arise. As an example, she said it quickly became apparent that parents who are picking up meals for multiple children need plastic bags to carry all the meals, and district officials were not prepared for that initially.
Even so, she was pleased with how well the first day went.
"It was a smooth operation," she said. "It went really well."
She credited James Olivas from the district's maintenance crew for putting together much of the plan. An ex-serviceman, she said Olivas has brought military efficiency to the deployment process.
"It's pretty impressive," she said.
Mizell also expressed her gratitude to the many district employees who have come in to work this week during what was supposed to be the district's spring break.
"I think we'll get a process down," she said. "My team was amazing. I'm so appreciative of everybody stepping up."
Aztec distributing meals at multiple locations
The Aztec district was in the process of piecing together a distribution system on March 16.
Bob Schryver, the district's food service director, said those remote sites would be set up by March 18. For now, the district is distributing meals at the Aztec High School student drop-off lane on Blanco Street from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
On March 18, additional distribution sites will be offered at
- Park Avenue Elementary School
- McCoy Elementary School
- Lydia Rippey Elementary School
- Flora Vista Fire Station
- Cedar Hill Fire Station
- Additional sites may be added
Schryver said the sudden need for the service caught the district a little off guard, but he assured parents the district is up to the challenge.
"We're on it," he said. "We've got it."
He said 300 meals were served at Aztec High School on the first day, and he expects that number to rise as more parents become aware of the service. The district is alerting parents about the meals via robocalls, its website and social media.
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Schryver also credited the district's staff for responding to the needs of students by working during spring break.
"I've got a great group of people coming in," he said. "I want to give a big shout-out to them."
Anyone with questions about the Aztec meals is encouraged to call 505-599-4351.
Both districts plan to continue serving the meals throughout the closure.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.