For a few hours every weekday, hundreds of children visit Arlington Elementary School in northeast Fort Wayne, claiming free meals that pair entrees including turkey sandwiches and burritos with such sides as celery, pears and graham crackers.
This busy meal distribution site is one of dozens across Allen County as school districts ensure children don't go hungry during the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced schools to finish the academic year with remote learning.
Fort Wayne Community Schools – which offers meals to all children, regardless of the school they attend – generally has served about 5,000 to 6,000 children a day, but demand jumped Monday and Tuesday to about 6,700 to 6,800 students fed, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said. She noted weather can affect turnout.
FWCS has an enrollment of about 30,000 students and offers meal pickup at most elementary schools.
“We are happy to provide this service to the families in the community, whether they need the meals because they have limited incomes or because it offers an opportunity to take a family walk with a planned destination,” Stockman said by email. “We have heard much appreciation from families who rely on school meals when school is in session, and especially now when more parents are out of work.”
East Allen County Schools – which provides meals weekly, also to any child in the community – distributed 25,000 breakfasts, 25,000 lunches and 50,000 milk cartons for 5,000 students this week, spokeswoman Tamyra Kelly said.
Dan Krleski, EACS food service director, said the district is honored to help families during the pandemic. Food service staff, teachers, administrators and volunteers have worked tirelessly to provide nutritional meals, he added.
“It's so rewarding to see families drive up and pull away with food for a week, for each student,” Krleski said by email.
Estimating the demand can be difficult, Kelly said. EACS has about 10,000 students.
“We distribute food while supplies last and we have no way of knowing from week to week how many families will visit the site,” Kelly said by email. “We are, however, saddened if we do run out.”
FWCS launched the effort at each elementary school, but it ended distribution at Scott Academy and Bunche and Whitney Young early childhood centers because they served fewer than 100 children daily, sometimes as low as 50 students, Stockman said. These closed sites might mean some students must travel farther to get meals, she said, but the district's overall numbers have stayed steady.
“Some people are going to their school daily, even if it is not the closest school to their house,” Stockman said. “Because Whitney Young and Bunche are magnet programs, some of the families using those sites are now picking up meals at their neighborhood school.”
Southwest Allen County Schools had served a total of 21,533 meals to students as of Wednesday, said Brant Brown, food service director.
The 7,700-student district began its service with a central pickup site at Homestead High School but has expanded to several apartment complexes, allowing SACS to reach a high concentration of students in one place, Brown said.
He described the response from the SACS community as incredible.
“From the daily feedback regarding our meal program, and the quality of meals, to the number of volunteer requests has astonished me,” Brown said by email. “I would like to thank everybody who has reached out to me. That positive feedback has been well received and appreciated by our staff. Most importantly, I want to thank our food service staff for their unselfish dedication during this difficult time.”
If you go
The Allen County school districts are providing free meals while schools are closed for the coronavirus pandemic. Details vary by district.
Fort Wayne Community Schools
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily through May 28; closed Memorial Day
Where: Most FWCS elementary schools
Who: All children, regardless of the school they attend, ages birth through high school; children must be present
East Allen County Schools
Hours: 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through May 19
Where: Heritage K-12, Door 8; Southwick Elementary School, Door 6; New Haven Intermediate School, Door 9
Who: Anyone in the EACS community who is 18 or younger
Northwest Allen County Schools
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays
Where: Carroll High School and Huntertown Elementary School
Call 260-637-8768 or 260-338-0802 with questions
Southwest Allen County Schools
Hours: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays through May 28; closed Memorial Day
Where: Homestead High School
Meals also are distributed from 11 to 11:30 a.m. at various apartment complexes for students who live in or near those communities.