Workers load meals into a school bus at a pickup location in South Portland. The school district is maintaining its free lunch program, despite schools being temporarily closed due to the coronavirus. Courtesy / Martha Spencer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The temporary closure of local school buildings could have cut off needy kids from free school lunch programs, but workers in local districts are making sure kids won’t go hungry.

South Portland School Superintendent Ken Kunin said in the two weeks since his schools closed on March 17, his district alone has distributed nearly 6,000 meals.

“We think that will continue to grow,” he said.

Cape Elizabeth Police Community Liaison Officer Darin Estes, left, and School Resource Officer David Galvan prepare to deliver free meals to children in Cape Elizabeth. Courtesy / Peter Esposito

In addition, Kunin said the district is working with the local Boys and Girls Clubs to produce dinners, too. Any child up to 19 years old is eligible for the meals, Kunin said, even if they don’t live in South Portland. Meals are available for pickup at several locations in the city, and parents may come to pick up the meals alone if they don’t want to take their children outside. The district will also deliver to families that may be in quarantine and can’t make it to a pickup location.

“We will keep this going as long as we need to, as long as we can,” Kunin said.

Martha Spencer, director of the South Portland School Nutrition Program, said she and her staff have been working to prepare the meals, loading them into school buses at the pickup stations. She said social distancing requirements keep even verbal interactions to a minimum, but she can still tell that the service is having an impact on families.

“They’re grateful and they’re happy that they’re getting this food,” she said.

Scarborough School Nutrition Director Peter Esposito serves children both locally and in Cape Elizabeth. He said his district is preparing food on a weekly rather than daily level, and is delivering the meals in school buses to residents. In Cape Elizabeth, the police department is also delivering food.

The deliveries began immediately upon the school closures, Esposito said, “so nobody missed out.”

Esposito said he serves about 200 kids in Scarborough, and 60 in Cape Elizabeth.

“Anybody that needs it are taken care of,” he said.

Scarborough is working with other organizations as well, including Project Grace, the South Portland Food Pantry and the Scarborough Food Pantry, Esposito said.

A 46-year-old single mother of two – one in elementary school and the other in middle school — said she lives in subsidized housing and worried that the school closure would make it that much harder to feed her kids.

“I wasn’t totally freaked out, but I was very concerned,” said the Cape Elizabeth woman, who asked that her name and address not be published.

Then she got the email informing her that the meals program would continue, and it was a weight off her shoulders.

“It has been sensational,” she said. “It’s just above and beyond.”

She said her kids are working harder at their lessons now that they are properly fed.

“They’re actually eating better, and that brings me the most joy,” she said.

Comments are not available on this story.