FAIRBORN — When Fairborn City School District officials learned that school facilities across Ohio would close to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they already had plans in motion to keep students fed.
“Earlier in the week, I talked to my friends in other districts and it was something we were thinking about,” Child Nutrition Supervisor Kathleen Koneval Housman said.
The morning Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that schools would close — initially for about three weeks — Housman said Fairborn Schools Superintendent Gene Lolli had already set up a meeting between herself and the district administration team to come up with a plan.
“Because of our summer lunch program, we already had an idea on how to do it,” she said. “We called on our experience.”
The district started with multiple lunch and breakfast bag distribution events throughout the week at several sites within the Fairborn community. Over time, they realized it was best to distribute meal bags once per week to help prevent the spread of the illness.
Every Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., parents line up in their vehicles at the distribution sites and load up the bags when it’s their turn. It includes five breakfasts and five lunches, all for free.
Cafeteria staff members begin their Wednesdays at 6 a.m., and put together more than 1,000 meal bags. It’s different than their normal work routine, but staff members said they’re happy knowing the kids are fed.
“One of my first thoughts [when DeWine announced schools would close] was ‘how are we going to feed the kids?’ ” Cafeteria staff member Desiree Morrow said.
Just like Housman, they’re calling upon experience as well when putting the meal bags together. Cafeteria staff member Lisa Markowski highlighted that they create similar lunch bags on the last day of school each year when the students are participating in their end-of-school-year picnics and field day events. She said putting the meals together is the easy part – it’s the preparation that can be the most time consuming.
By 7 a.m., staff members take their positions resembling an assembly line and begin creating the lunches.
“We’re used to this,” Markowski said. “But not two times a week [at first].”
Children are given individually wrapped, mostly shelf-stable foods, but Housman values a variety. During at least one distribution event, children were given perishable yogurt and cheese — along with a note attached to the bag highlighting that the bags needed to be refrigerated. Cafeteria staff members must keep FDA regulations in mind.
“The most important thing to us is feeding the kids,” Morrow said.
Even after the school year ends, Fairborn schools is prepared to continue providing meals for an additional nine weeks through its summer lunch program. Details of the program will be forthcoming as now they may have new regulations to follow due to COVID-19.
“We’re happy to continue feeding the kids,” Housman said. “I hope more families take advantage of it. It’s not as good as being in the schools because of our limitations, but we’re doing the best we can.”
Housman spent 16 years of her career working in healthcare. For the last three, she has been serving Fairborn City Schools.
“It’s my hardest job, but it’s my most rewarding job – seeing the kids,” she said.
Morrow and Markowski highlighted that many of the cafeteria staff members are or were military wives or stay-at-home moms. She said the schedule of working the cafeteria is beneficial for them as it allows them to be home with their kids when they get home from school.
“They’re working their tails off,” Housman said of her staff. “They do a great job working as a team, even when we have to practice social distancing.”