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Cafeterias reopen while schools remain closed: Ardmore students receive lunchtime deliveries at neighborhood bus stops

Michael Smith
msmith@ardmoreite.com
Students receive bag lunches at an Ardmore school bus stop on Tuesday. School buses on eight routes will deliver meals to students through Thursday during a state mandated closure of public schools.

Eight Ardmore City School buses fanned out across the city on Tuesday to begin “grab and go” lunch deliveries to students. With Oklahoma schools shut down in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, administrators applied for and received federal waivers to ensure students who rely on school meals can be fed while schools remain closed.

About 400 Ardmore students were signed up for the first round of meals this week and more are expected to sign up later this week for next week’s deliveries. The decision to deliver to bus stops rather than open distribution sites came down to the needs of students and their parents.

“We were wanting to take it to them, within a walking distance, for them to be able to walk a few blocks to a bus stop to get those meals,” said Child Nutrition Director Robye Cook.

Other schools across Carter County are providing sack lunches to students who rely on school meals, but the county’s largest school district is unique because it does not rely on pickup locations to distribute meals. Cook said ACS officials had to consider the large number of students who may not have transportation while parents are at work.

Even if a student does not ride a school bus, they can still visit the bus stop nearest their home for a sack lunch if they signed up. Lunches will not be delivered on Friday, which was already scheduled without classes.

Bus stops were a natural decision for drop-off points, but Cook said existing bus routes had to be altered so food could be delivered in a safe amount of time. A decision was also made to put staff in four cafeterias — Ardmore High, Ardmore Middle, Lincoln Elementary and Charles Evans Elementary — to begin the distribution process.

Since the number of meals needed each day is drastically lower than a typical school day, Cook said her staff was easily able to prepare the sack lunches. Her staff was also able to easily transition from preparing on-site meals to packaging the sack lunches.

“They’re pretty comfortable with it because we do sack lunches for field trips and things like that,” she said. “The challenge has just really been getting everyone signed up and directing everyone to get where they need to be.”

Ardmore schools implemented a signup process late last week for meal deliveries this week.

Since food delivery is a new endeavor for Cook and other ACS staff, she expected Wednesday’s deliveries to be much smoother. While a signup window late last week had to be closed in order for routes to be set up, Cook said students can still be put on the delivery list for this week.

Cathy Boydston visited a drop-off location with two of her granddaughters, who each eagerly took a sack and drink from masked ACS staff just before noon. While her daughter works days, Boydston cares for the grandchildren until her own job begins in the afternoon. While finding childcare has been one of her family’s biggest challenges, she said the meals are a big help.

As for the grandchildren, they’re taking the closure in stride. “Their momma went out and got them work books, so they’re doing that, watching TV and playing,” Boydston said.

Cook said students or parents who missed the signup period last week can still receive a sack lunch if her staff is notified. Cook can be reached at (580) 504-7294 or by emailing rcook@ardmoreschools.org.