Chalk it up to the 2020 vibe: When novel coronavirus challenges come along, you adapt on the fly.
Escalante Middle School – staff members, students and parents – have been preparing holiday meals for families seeking help through the winter break for several years, but it’s been the students who assemble the final packages for pickup by Escalante families who have requested the bags.
This year, with students at home during remote learning, school staff members stepped up to keep the school’s holiday tradition alive.
“We should be able to make 50 pretty dang good boxes,” said Eva Duce, physical education teacher and athletic director at Escalante, on Tuesday as she and several staff members assembled meal bags in the school’s foyer. Eventually, the bags will be boxed and wrapped Christmas-style.
Early on, lagging food donations were a problem Escalante staff members encountered. In past years, it was largely the students who brought food donations to school, providing the bulk of supplies for the meals.
With supplies lacking, Duce put out a call for donations on her Facebook page, and that resulted not only in increased food donations but also monetary donations of $350.
Duce said a member of the community who wanted to remain anonymous also provided a $1,000 donation that will be divided into $40 gift cards to Walmart for the families.
Lu Boren, Escalante’s agriculture teacher, credited Manna soup kitchen with the key donation – providing 52 turkeys.
“It’s such an expensive part of the dinner. When Manna said they’d donate the turkeys, it made everything manageable,” Boren said.
Staff members decided to create 50 separate food packages with the donations; the two biggest families will receive two turkeys instead of one.
Students weren’t totally excluded from the holiday meal project.
Boren’s seventh grade ag students made 46 apple pies for the meals with gleaned apples donated by Manna and the school’s teachers.
The apple pies were made before the school went to all remote learning and stored in the school’s freezer.
“It gave the students a way to think of something besides themselves during these COVID times,” Boren said.
Duce and Escalante counselor Ian Lennox went on a shopping spree Monday at Walmart with the $350 in donations.
When Duce and Lennox completed their shopping, they had cleaned out every 10-pound sack of Russet potatoes and every box of stuffing on the shelves. They also hit the cake mix aisle pretty hard.
“We made it pretty easy on the checker. We put one of each item in a cart, and then told him how many total packages of each we had,” Duce said.
Winter Break Food BagsAt Durango High School, Krista Garand, coordinator of student nutrition, said members of the Food and Nutrition Department thought it would be good to prepare bags of fresh produce, cheese, milk, tortillas and other food for all 9-R families who have been signing up for take-home meals from school cafeterias while their children have been learning at home.
In total, cafeteria workers planned to assemble 1,050 bags, which will go out Friday when remote learners pick up their Friday meals. They’ll also get an extra 13.5-pound bag with food and recipes.
“It’s a pretty hefty bag, probably about one-third the weight of the little elementary kids who’ll come to pick it up,” Garand said.
She said it might be a good idea for parents to come to their child’s school to load up the bag on Friday rather than having their children trek back home with the 13.5-pound load of food plus their Friday remote meals.
Each Winter Break Food Bag will come with simple recipes that will allow children to cook the meals.
Recipes, provided in English and Spanish, have been chosen because they allow children to complete the meals even if they don’t have access to a full kitchen. Only a microwave will be needed for some of the hot meals.
“Our goal is for the kids to learn a bit about healthy nutrition. They’re going to have a two-week break, so they might as well do something that is educational,” Garand said.
Cafeteria workers will be assembling the 1,050 bags through Thursday and then they will be shipped to 9-R school cafeterias and some bus stop locations where remote meals are being distributed. The bags will go out with Friday’s remote meals.
“Now, we have to figure out how many times we have to move each bag,” said Gina Cottom, 9-R’s roving cafeteria manager.