PIERCETON — The Whitko School Corporation has hit a groove with its free meal delivery service for students.
Last month, Whitko, like other school corporations across the state, closed its doors to students shortly after the COVID-19 crisis was declared a pandemic. Also like other schools, Whitko sought to find a way to provide meals for its students during the extended period of e-learning.
Whitko decided to bring meals directly to the doors of students’ houses. The effort is a joint undertaking between Whitko’s Transportation Department and its food services.
The announcement regarding the service was made March 13. Whitko intended to roll out the program Monday, March 23. The school corporation started the program a few days early, on Friday, March 20.
Whitko’s program is the third free meal program for students launched by local school systems. Warsaw Community Schools launched its own delivery program. Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation launched a grab-and-go program with locations across its respective district.
Meals are delivered daily Monday through Friday. Each meal package comes with food intended for lunch that day and breakfast the following morning.
According to Transportation Director Jim Bumbaugh, the program had a few glitches at lauch. Bumbaugh compared the launch of the service to “the first day of school but 10 times worse.” Nearly three weeks in, the operation has “fallen into a groove,” he said.
The transportation and delivery of the meals are “down to a science,” said Bumbaugh.
Each day around 12:30 p.m., 11 school buses, driven by volunteers, pick up meals prepared at Pierceton Elementary, Whitko Jr/Sr. High School and South Whitley Elementary. The meals are delivered to the approximately 427 families in the Whitko district who signed up for the service. Those in the Whitko district who haven’t signed up for service are encouraged to contact the Whitko Transportation Department.
Each bus delivers meals to homes in the surrounding area of the three schools where the meals were picked up. Bumbaugh estimated deliveries are completed within a couple of hours.
While deliveries run smoothly, meal prep isn’t without its challenges. According to Shelley Badskey, food service director at Pierceton Elementary, small school districts like Whitko currently experience difficulty in procuring certain menu items.
Many school systems, large and small, pull from the same vendors. Some of those vendors also pull from distributors who supply supermarkets, according to Badskey.
“We have to be creative,” she said. The most difficult items to procure are protein-rich foods, said Badskey.
Badskey sees the situation improving as the food supply is replenished after the initial rush on grocery stores caused by the pandemic.
Businesses in the community contributed to Whitko’s effort. Badskey mentioned grocery stores such as Owen’s in Warsaw donated boxes of plastic grocery bags to transport the meals.
According to Badskey, Whitko intends to continue the free meal deliveries until May 27, the last day of the 2019-2020 academic year.