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  7. Averill Park CSD Switches...

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed school buildings across New York state, a chain reaction took place that affected school-age children.

Students had to quickly adapt to remote learning, figure out if their Wi-Fi connection would be suitable to connect with teachers, and face the challenge of not being able to see friends and family.

On a much more basic level, students and families had to figure out where meals would be coming from daily.

To assist with that need, staff members at Averill Park Central School District have come together to form a food service and delivery program.

Now a full month into the closure of school buildings, APCSD is making roughly 2,500 meals per week, including 1,250 breakfasts and 1,250 lunches.

“We are still required to follow the School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program meal pattern, so the meals consist of the same components that are offered in school,” APCSD Director of Food Services, Colleen Wise, said. “Each breakfast includes whole grains, milk, juice and fruit. Lunches include whole grains, meat or a meat alternative, such as cheese or yogurt, fruit, vegetables, and milk.”

Students are used to receiving a variety of options for breakfast and lunch. Breakfasts entrees have consisted of a variety of cereal, muffins, mini cinnamon buns, cereal bars and oatmeal chocolate chip bars. For lunch entrees, in addition to a variety of cold sandwiches such as peanut butter and jelly, turkey, ham, chicken salad and tuna salad, students have received several popular items that are fully cooked and simply need to be reheated at home. These include items such as popcorn chicken, cheeseburger and chicken patty. Each of these options come with reheating instructions.

“The APCSD Food Service staff has been working hard to ensure students are still receiving nutritious meals throughout the closure,” Wise said. “We have enjoyed seeing our students at meal pick up, and speaking with the parents/guardians, who have been so appreciative of our efforts. We hope our students can feel the same love and care in these bagged meals that goes into making their breakfast and lunch each day while in school.”

Setting up the food service program came with some challenges, specifically how to reach students who did not have a way to pick up meals at the distribution location.

To help coordinate the effort, Averill Park CSD Athletic Director, Mark Bubniak, and his staff volunteered.

“We are used to change in the athletic department as no one day is ever the same, however, this has been a big change as it is something that isn’t athletic related, but it is much more important at this time,” he said. “Our first priority in the athletic department is to always do what is best for students and we are using that same motto now, as well. Many people assume that just because there are no athletic contests going on at the moment that there isn’t much to do in the athletic department, however, there are still many things to do, but food distribution and delivery has obviously moved to the top of the list.”

Bubniak is joined by Monica Shupe in assisting with the food delivery program. Bubniak stated that strong organization and communications skills are required to run an athletic department and those attributes have translated well in this new role.

“Just like how the athletic department functions, our food distribution and delivery has truly been a team effort,” Bubniak said. “From Colleen Wise and her staff in food service, to Mark Premo and his staff in transportation, to our coordinators of the Backpack Programs and Food Pantry Programs, as well as the many teachers and coaches that have volunteered to help with distribution, it has truly been a team effort. I would also like to thank those community members who have donated food and/or made monetary contributions.”

Premo and the transportation department are now delivering meals to more than 80 students every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Two buses are being used to deliver meals with an extra person riding along to deliver the meals, ensuring everyone is adhering to good social distancing procedures.

On Wednesdays, a bus with two people is sent to the regional food bank in Latham to retrieve food for the Elementary Backpack Program and the High School and Middle School Food Pantry Programs.

“This whole thing has been a big change for everyone, but we have come up with a good plan and it’s been working very smooth at this point,” Premo said. “We have established routes and are able to adjust and make changes as more people need food on a weekly basis. If need be, we can always add another bus for delivery. I think the employees are doing a great job of adjusting to this situation and doing some things that they normally wouldn’t do every day. The amount of people willing to volunteer in any way to help out is really nice.”

Bubniak added that “everyone has stepped up during these unprecedented times and I would expect nothing less from the Averill Park community. I would like to thank everyone for doing their part, no matter how big or small, in helping those in our community to not go hungry.”