Classes may not be in session, but the kitchens are still open at multiple schools across the Tulsa area.
“The minute school let out, we started providing meals the next day,” said Lisa Griffin, director of child nutrition for Union Public Schools.
Along with feeding summer school students, Union is a participant in the Summer Food Service Program, which offers two free meals per day for children ages 18 and under. The program is administered by the Oklahoma State Department of Education through funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In March, the USDA extended COVID-19 induced waivers to allow school districts and other site sponsors, such as churches, housing authorities and parks, the option to offer grab-and-go meals rather than require children to stay and eat on site.
In addition to bus routes making stops at six apartment complexes across south and east Tulsa, Union’s summer feeding program has curbside pickup available at Ellen Ochoa Elementary, the 6th and 7th Grade Center and Union High School.
Since Monday, Union has distributed 5,545 breakfasts and 7,014 lunches through summer school campuses, bus stops and curbside pickup sites.
“We’re not just serving sandwiches,” Griffin said. “It’s meals from scratch, plus local fruits and vegetables. We’re serving meals that kids have liked during the school year.”
More than 13 million meals were served across Oklahoma as part of the 2020 summer feeding program. According to a study published by Feeding America, the country’s largest domestic-focused hunger relief organization, about 20% of children statewide do not have consistent, regular access to nutritionally adequate food.
Almost 1,400 feeding sites are available statewide, with full list of participating sites listed online at meals4kidsok.org. Other area school districts hosting meal sites include Bixby, Skiatook, Broken Arrow, Sapulpa, Claremore, Jenks, Bartlesville, Pawhuska, Bristow and Tulsa.
Along with 13 mobile meal bus routes fanning out across its district, Will Rogers Early College Middle and High School is one of 36 summer meal sites hosted by Tulsa Public Schools through the Summer Food Service Program.
Along with a cart to facilitate contactless handoffs, the school’s Child Nutrition staff hauled coolers full of milk cartons and produce, individually wrapped corn dogs and individual serving size containers of cereal outside Wednesday.
For two hours, cafeteria manager Ginnie Holly and her staff stood in the sunshine out front of the building’s main entrance to hand out meals to families.
Since summer meal service launched on June 1, turnout has varied widely, with a higher demand on Fridays when students are sent home with additional meals for the weekend.
“We are here Monday through Friday for students who can’t get good meals at home,” Holly said. “They need to come here and get some food. We are happy to feed them.”
That sentiment was echoed by her counterpart at nearby Kendall-Whittier Elementary School.
The manager for both Kendall-Whittier and Sequoyah Elementary School, Stephanie Winfrey, said they are also seeing sporadic foot traffic at Kendall-Whittier as word starts getting out that meals are still available during the summer.
Through a partnership with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, the child nutrition staff at Kendall-Whittier and a handful of other TPS sites also have adult and family meals available for pick-up on Wednesdays. Those additional sites include Celia Clinton, Cooper, John Hope Franklin, MacArthur, Marshall and Sequoyah elementary schools and Memorial High School.
“We would love to see everybody,” she said.
Winfrey’s colleague, Rosalinda Valladolid, reiterated that the staff is still observing COVID-19 protocols in an effort to keep everyone safe. Like their counterparts at Rogers, the masked, gloved staff is maintaining social distancing and uses a cart to facilitate contactless meal handoffs.
“I know some people aren’t coming out because of the virus, but we’re being very protective,” she said. “We are taking our precautions.
“That’s a big thing that I know some people are worried about, but they shouldn’t be. Everyone can come and get a meal.”