Local schools are working to ensure children have meals during time off 

Local school districts have begun meal programs to help provide children with a supply of food during the shutdown caused by the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

Marysville and Arlington school districts began with programs at their schools on March 16 and were slated to expand their programs in the week of March 23.

The programs are purely "grab-and-go," so students can come pick up some food and eat elsewhere.

"There was some confusion on the first days," said Jodi Runyon, director of outreach and engagement with the Marysville School District, and parents thought it was a sit-down lunch.

Due to the guidelines from Gov. Jay Inslee and the Snohomish Health District, schools are not supposed to create large gatherings, said Runyon, so the meals are picked up outside on the curb.

The school meals are available, even for students who do not go to school in the district, and no paperwork or money is required to receive a meal.

The Arlington School District began with meals at Arlington High School and Presidents Elementary, but will expand with 10 pickup locations.

Those sites are the Lutheran church in Silvana, Arlington Heights Community Club, Oso Fire Station, Bryant Community Grange, Angel of the Winds Casino south parking lot, Sisco Heights Church, Kent Prairie Elementary School, Mobile Estates, High Clover at 47th Avenue and High Clover Boulevard and the Trafton General Store.

Those sites will be open from 9:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

"Our order form will be available online," said Brian Lewis, executive director of operations for the Arlington School District. Parents can pre-order for a specific day or for every day in a week.

Presidents Elementary and Arlington High School will continue providing meals from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Marysville School District is also providing meals at all of their K-12 school sites from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Beginning March 23 they began taking meals out to students along every elementary school bus route.

"We now have bus routes and set up a time schedule for every route," said Mike Sullivan, director of finance for the Marysville School District.

"For any student that comes to their stop they will receive a meal," he said.

The earliest stops will happen around 10:10 a.m. and the latest will be around 12:40 p.m., he said.

Lewis said that the Arlington School District was considering a similar program, however had concerns about how many kids would get together at the stops.

"We don't want kids to gather en masse," he said.

The Marysville School District has stops that are fairly spaced out, said Sullivan.

Although he said there are still some stops in the district that may attract a larger number of kids.

"On the first day there may be some more kids at some stops, and we will probably have to talk to the kids about social distancing," said Sullivan.

Districts are following a state mandate from Gov. Jay Inslee to provide meals, although officials said that there is definitely a need for it.

"We're helping to make sure that our kids are getting some nutrition, and that is the biggest priority," said Lewis.

"Thirty percent of our kids are eligible for free and reduced lunch," he added.

Sullivan said continuing to provide food to kids, especially during this time, was essential.

"We've got some hungry kid here and that's why it's an important thing to do," he said.

"When the governor closed schools his first priority was feeding the kids," he said.

Both districts have seen their number of meals rapidly increase over the first week.

In Arlington the district gave out 179 meals the first day and 401 on the third.

"So we've been seeing an increase every day so far," said Lewis. "We expect the need will increase as more people are put out of work."

Marysville schools gave out 971 meals on the first day, which had increased to 3,040 by the fourth day.

"It's going up every day pretty well," said Sullivan.

Both school districts are also partnering with food banks to continue weekend food programs.

"We're also connecting with our community partners," said Runyon, who said the Marysville Community Food Bank's Food for Thought program will continue through their meals.

"We will be providing those weekend meals for the kids that need it," she said.

Arlington school staff are also working with the local food bank to deliver 'Meals 'til Monday,' which is also a weekend food program for families who need support.

When Gov. Inslee mandated that schools be closed in response the new coronavirus he also said schools should prepare work for their staff.

Bus drivers and nutrition staff are finding work with the meal programs.

"Not only our child nutrition staff but also our bus drivers are getting work from this program," said Lewis.

Sullivan said that Marysville continues to work on programs to provide work for any employee who is safe to come to work.

"Some of our employees are at risk and some will be sick, whether that is with the coronavirus or not, and we don't want to take any chances with those employees," he said.

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