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How Meal Pickup Works For New Orleans Students

Travis Lux
Signs at Paul Habans Charter School point students, parent, and caregivers where to pick up their meals and distance-learning materials, others offer reminders about how to help minimize the spread of coronavirus.

The scene outside Paul Habans Charter School was friendly and organized Monday morning as parents and caregivers filtered in to pick up lunches for students who are no longer able to attend school due to the statewide cancellation.

Along the front wall of the building, teachers stood behind folding tables with stacks of styrofoam to-go boxes, ready to hand them out to students, parents or caregivers. Signs clearly marked the lines for Habans students and non-Habans students.

On the menu today: Sausage, biscuits and milk for breakfast. For lunch: chicken alfredo, corn and a roll (whole wheat, by the looks of it).

For those who preferred to stay in their cars, a separate table was staged closer to the parking lot for drive-through pickup.

On the front lawn, there was a makeshift school store, complete school supplies, books and packaged snacks. According to a sign, all items were being given away for free, though with daily limits.

Inside the school building, the cafeteria had been turned into a staging area for distance learning materials, with workbooks and packets neatly arranged on tables by grade level.

Credit Travis Lux / WWNO
The cafeteria tables of Paul Habans Charter School are with distance-learning materials, organized by grade level, for students to retrieve with their meals.

Paul Habans was one of ten schools offering school lunches for pickup on Monday, though many others will start offering the same service this week.

Starting Monday, March 23, NOLA Public Schools will launch a more comprehensive, citywide nutrition plan. Officials have not yet released all the details about what that plan will include, but NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis, Jr. said it will likely look similar to the scene at Paul Habans on Monday, just with more locations.

New Orleans Public Radio spoke with Lewis about the district’s nutrition plan and a few other things Monday morning.

Can you describe what the process is? If I’m a parent, and I show up in my car today and I’m looking for food -- what’s the process for me?

You just show up. You let us know how many kids you need to feed. You receive the food items for those students. And then we hope that you come back tomorrow because we’re here five days a week to make sure we provide breakfast and lunch for our families.

As we go through the week, more schools will come online. And then next week, we’ll have a more citywide, coordinated effort. So for the most part, families probably will be able to be within walking distance to a site to be able to come get a very nutritious meal for breakfast and lunch.

The student doesn’t have to be present, is that right?

That is correct. Students do not have to be present. We do know that in some families they may have multiple kids. So instead of putting all those kids in the car or having all those students walk to a site, that family member can come pick up those meals for our students.

Can you tell me a little about the precautions being taken -- health precautions -- at sites like this one, to make sure that these sites don’t also propagate the spread of the virus?

Yeah, so even as we’re here at Habans Elementary School, the pickup is outside. Because we want to be able to ensure safety. We want our kids to have their meals, but then also we don’t want to complicate things. Because we do know that we’re in a very serious crisis here in the city of New Orleans because of COVID-19.

If you don’t have a student at that school, can you still get food at that school?

So, when it comes down to the food, you do not have to go to the school that you attend. But the school that’s closest to where you are. Now, you may end up coming to a site that is distributing food, but you’ll see other materials.

Here at Habans, for example, we want to make sure that education continues, so the educators at this particular school have [distance-learning] packets set up. So families are also coming in to pick up the packets for the students who are attending this particular school as well.

A lot that’s going on right now, but I must say, this is what our educators do. When we have tough times -- even during the regular school year -- the challenges that our students and our families face every single day, we always respond to them in such a positive way just as you see today.

Credit Travis Lux / WWNO
For lunch on Monday, March 16, Paul Habans Charter School provided chicken alfredo, corn, and a roll.

There was some discussion, at first, of maybe using school buses to help deliver food. Is that idea off to the side now?

We are still looking into the potential of using bus routes to also drop food off to our students and our families. And as we go through the week, we’ll know more and put that final plan together. Once we get that final plan out, we’ll make sure that it’s on our website. And we’ll push it out to our entire community at large.

What does this closure mean for standardized testing? I know there’s a lot of resources that can be attached to standardized testing -- what is this closure period going to mean for that process?

Our acting state superintendent is in contact with all [school district] superintendents across the state. Right now, when it comes down to state testing, we’re just yielding to the state Department of Education for guidance. But more importantly, what we’re doing right now is telling our students and our families: don’t worry about that right now.

What we want people to be concerned with, number one, is their safety. And those tips: social distancing, washing your hands, remaining clean. The next thing we want to make sure our families know is that we’re here to feed them -- breakfast and lunch. And then the third thing is, in this interim period of time -- when our schools have given our students packets and things to work on -- remain engaged. As we go through the weeks we’ll provide our families with more information. And then at that time, we can worry about other things.

But as far as statewide testing, we’re leaving that in the hands of the state Department of Education. Right now, those three priorities are really what we want our families to concentrate on. Because we’re concerned about them. And all that other stuff will take care of itself at the appropriate time.

You can find a full list of schools currently distributing grab-and-go meals for breakfast and lunch here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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