In a matter of hours last week, the community came together with a plan to help support their own in the midst of the COVID-19 closures that swept the area on March 17. Just as quickly as the closures began, questions began to arise. What would happen to those school-aged children who depend on the schools’ breakfast and lunches? Would the elderly who depend on delivered meals or fellowship meals still have access to those?
“In making the determination to close the school district for this time period. Mr. (Dan) Wiebers and I were most concerned with what that would mean for the students and their families,” Dr. Zach McMains, assistant superintendent for Chillicothe R-II School District said. “Continuing our food service program during the school closure was a district priority and knowing we could submit a summer food service program application in circumstances like these the ball started rolling.”
Teresa Sykes, resource coordinator for the Grand River Multipurpose Center said ensuring those in the community who depend on the home-delivered meals from the center, and those 100 plus people who came to the center tor lunch daily, still had access to food was and is a priority, The center also announced March 17 that it would no longer be open for dine-in meals. Meals can be picked up and all home-delivered meals are still being delivered.
By March 18, the second full day out of school for the district, plans were in place and meals were being provided to any person 18 years and under residing in the Chillicothe R-II School District, with lunch and breakfast for the following day.
McMains said teachers, support staff and community members immediately became involved in an effort to make sure the meals are ready and easily accessible, especially for those who may not have transportation.
“Our district is blessed to have the best support staff in the state. When we first starting talking about this program we asked around to see if anyone would be interested in volunteering. We were overwhelmed by the response from both our cafeteria staff and our transportation department. The support staff in our district has always gone above and beyond what is asked of them. They are truly in it for the kids,” he said. “It has been a team effort from the start, from the organization of volunteers to the creation of bus routes to deliver meals. There were a lot of community members and staff working together to bring this program online. This free meal program is a prime example of what a truly positive school/community relationship can accomplish for the good of their kids.”
Sykes said that the center’s usual volunteers are mostly in the age category that places them at high risk during this crisis. Various civic groups and even other area residents who cannot work because of the closures of businesses have all stepped up.
“We have had great volunteers step up and help us out,” she said. There were 28 volunteers at the center on Monday alone.
All of the center’s 140 home-bound clients who are on home delivery are now receiving all of their meals one day a week, the meals arrive frozen, in microwavable containers. On Monday, the center sent volunteers out with 688 meals to be delivered to home-bound area residents in and out of Chillicothe city limits.
Sykes did note for the time being the only new additions to the program would be those leaving the hospital, as usual requirements call for in-home visits, and due to the current health concerns, the in-home visits are temporarily suspended.
Meals are being delivered across town around 11-11:30 a.m., to students via school buses. Both groups said anyone on their delivered meals list should expect deliveries around that time.
The school district is also offering a pick-up option. Meals can be picked up at either Chillicothe Middle School, behind the building on the north side, or by the front door of Field Elementary School. Meals must be ordered before 4 p.m., to receive them the next day, McMains noted that once a meal form is filled out children will have a meal prepared for them until the program ends, which he noted would continue as long as it is needed.
With the uncertainty of the spread of the virus, Sykes said their program would continue to operate like this for an undetermined amount of time. Those who were among the 100 plus people who dined in, or any community member who wants a lunch from the center available for pick-up, should order it by 12 p.m., that day. Those 60 and younger are asked to pay $7.50 a meal; there is a suggested donation for those 60 and over. The center can be reached by calling 646-1555.
Funding for the meals for school-aged residents of Chillicothe comes from the state.
“The program we are using to fund this initiative is sponsored by the Department of Health and Senior Services. It is the same program we use to provide meals during summer school,” McMains said. “The district did apply for a waiver to allow us to use a Grab and Go option to serve the meals.”
Late last week, just days into the program, volunteers were preparing over 800 meals per day for more than 400 students. There are 1,720 students enrolled in the Chillicothe R-II School District.
When opened each week about 410 hot meals are served on-site at the multipurpose center and volunteers deliver about 640 meals to homebound seniors throughout Livingston County. The meals served at the center are funded by the Older Americans act through a contract with the Young at Heart (YAH) resources, and local contributions, Sykes said. In addition, Medicaid contributes to the funding for some of the home-delivered meals. The contract with the YAH requires the center to provide meals to persons over 60 years on a free-will donation basis.
Both Sykes and McMains said they have not been made aware of any food supply issues from their vendors.
Sykes said the center could use prayers.
“We will take prayers from anyone,” she said. “Together we will all make it through this,”
McMains said in times like these, seeing the community come together, should serve as a reminder of the string, supportive community Chillicothe and Livingston County is.
“We are extremely lucky to live and work in a community that continually, time after time, does what is best for our kids no matter what it takes. The Chillicothe School District is also committed to partnering with our community to provide valuable services for our kids,” he said. “During these uncertain times, a lot of anxiety can be created and this anxiety can sometimes make you focus on all of the bad in the world. This is the GOOD. BELIEVE in the good. And, when this is all over, hopefully, we can all reflect and be grateful for ALL of the good.”