On any given Friday in May, the school bus Mary Ellen Duggan is sitting in would typically be filled with kids. But instead of dropping students off at school, the bus she’s riding in is delivering food to families in need.
Duggan serves as the wellness coordinator for the Public Schools of Northboro and Southboro, a school district about 45 miles west of Boston, Massachusetts.
Back when the COVID-19 outbreak first started sweeping across the country, Duggan and her team knew the need for food was only going to increase as time went on. But her biggest concern was getting food to families that would typically be relying on kids being at school to get fed.
So, they brought in the buses.
“There’s a greater need now with people losing their jobs, so the need has grown,” she said sitting inside a school bus driving around town.
To eliminate obstacles for families, this school district is using school buses to drop meals off for kids. Every morning about a half-dozen buses pull up to the district’s high school, where cafeteria workers help load brown bags filled with meals into buses. The food then gets driven around both towns and dropped off with students who might otherwise not have food at home.
But the district is also using this food delivery as a chance to check in on students who might be falling through the cracks. Aboard every yellow bus is a school nurse, who is not only dropping meals off but also making checking on students mental and physical health.
“Sometimes we’ll get emails from a school saying someone hasn’t logged into class in a while, so we check on those kids,” Duggan added. “We ask if they need anything, if everyone in the house is okay and if everyone is healthy.”
It’s an idea this district hopes others across the country will want to emulate, especially at a time when so many families are struggling. Nationwide, 29.7 million kids rely on free or reduced lunches, and there are concerns the program could be broke by fall. The House’s most recent relief bill would give the program $3 billion, but so far, the Senate hasn’t taken action on the measure. The program works to give free or reduced-priced lunches to children under the National School Lunch Program.
Meanwhile, schools are shouldering the burden. In Northboro and Southboro, this program has cost an extra $100,000, but officials say they’ll keep feeding kids for as long as the need is there.
“I don’t really see the need going away,” Duggan said.