Cafeteria staff and bus drivers stood on curbsides in the Monday morning cold. At Tilford Elementary, a trio of women – Amanda Lund, Jolene Fisher and Laurie Werning – tended carts filled with brown bags with large Bs and Ls written in black marker.
Inside each sack labeled L was a pair of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, carrots, ranch dressing, a whole fruit and a graham cracker snack along with a carton of milk. The Bs each had individual portions of cereal, milk, juice and a granola bar.
The women waited on cars – and, in some cases, bicycles – to pull up and roll their windows down.
“How many?” they asked each driver, sometimes greeting them by name. The workers passed the sacks into the cars, sometimes to children in the back seats
Some drivers smiled and chatted a bit. One other cried. In both cases, a time of irregularity was mended, if just for a moment, by stability.
Workers for the Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District handed out sack lunches en masse in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. With Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recommendation that schools close until April, many families who relied upon school lunches were left wondering where their children might get their next meal.
In at least one case, it was essential. According to Karen Ackman, the VSCSD food service director, the first visitor to the Tilford Elementary location broke down in tears over their situation. The husband of that family is down to minimal hours at work while the wife was laid off from her job with no other income.
“’We really, really need this,’” Ackman remembered the family saying to her. “Just seeing her all emotional and knowing where we’re making a difference in some households [was gratifying].”
Ackman said she and her coworkers set up 200 meals in Vinton with another 80 made in Shellsburg to be passed out Monday morning. While there is a phone line set up to let the workers know how many people will show up each day, Ackman said nobody would be turned away if they came without calling first. The Tilford drop-off location passed out 53 sacked lunches and breakfasts in just half an hour from 11:30 to noon.
“We already operate the summer food service program, and so we knew the need was there,” Ackman said. “I would say it was a collective group effort.”
At the Vinton Iowa Public Library, a kitchen worker and a bus driver oversaw a small crate of bagged meals perched on the handicap ramp of a school bus. Deana Stout and Mark Christie gave away 25 meals in the same period of time. The pair hopes the numbers will grow by the day.
“It’s a need,” Christie said. “A lot of times, this is the only meals they get, is their school lunches. They need to get fed.”
As much as the bare essentials were needed by some families, Ackman said she wants to take it a step further. She said she plans to have a full menu online by the middle of the week listing what the team will be offering, including a desire to make hot meals for the children with items like walking tacos and chicken patties.
“Hot meals are important,” Ackman said. “There’s wonderful resources out there for food, but a hot meal is important.”
Ackman and the rest of her team will be out in full force throughout the week beginning at 11:30 a.m. at Tilford Elementary School, the Vinton Park Apartments Driveway, Shellsburg Elementary School, the Timber Ridge community mailbox area and near the Old Library in downtown Garrison. The location at the Vinton Public Library is scheduled to begin its giveaways at 11:50 a.m.