Westbrook School Nutrition Director Mary Emerson finishes helping bus driver Erik Jensen load student meals for delivery Monday. Chance Viles / American Journal

WESTBROOK — Westbrook schools have been providing nearly 700 free meals a day to students during the coronavirus shutdown. On Fridays, to supply meals for the weekend, that number more than doubles to 1,800.

Peter Wilson, an electrical instructor at Westbrook Regional Vocational Center, said it feels surreal for him and his colleagues to be handing out food and books during a pandemic.

“A lot of us keep snacks in our classrooms to give out because there are hungry kids, but this is just a much larger scale,” he said.

Vocational tech teacher David Field, left, and electrical instructor Peter Wilson, deliver meals to a waiting parent. Chance Viles / American Journal

Wilson and others handed out over 200 meals between 9 and 11 a.m. Monday to residents who showed up at the school’s pick-up point.

“I think we are doing well in making use of the location and getting the food out there, and we are getting better. That is what we do here, though, we get things done,” Wilson said.

It’s an odd change from teaching classes, Wilson said.

“We really try to instruct the importance of service and volunteering,” he said. “It’s something I teach to my class, so it’s important to be here helping,” Wilson said.

Additionally, bus drivers used five vans to deliver 493 delivery meals on Monday, School Nutrition Director Mary Emerson said.

Bus driver Erik Jensen heads for a van with food to deliver. Chance Viles / American Journal

Westbrook schools started the meal distribution immediately at each school after the buildings were closed as of March 16 due to the coronavirus outbreak. They then opted to centralize meal pick-up at the vocational center.

The meals are put together by the school’s nutrition department and are supplemented by the Locker Project and Full Plates Full Potential. Monday’s was either pizza or a sandwich and fruit, vegetables, milk and juice.

The schools’ policy is that no one gets turned away from receiving food.

On a typical school day, about 1,400 free meals are distributed, according to Superintendent Peter Lancia. Those not getting the free meals now “may be getting food from other resources, like food banks, neighbors. Plus a whole lot of people are afraid and do not want to go outside,” he said.

It’s nice because students can make a connection and see familiar faces, so it’s not always, say, the high school staff handing things out,” Lancia said.

For the students, it might be the only way they get to socialize face to face (with appropriate social distancing) outside of their family through the week.

“One thing we are trying to push and try to capitalize on during this closure is human interaction. We don’t want people to feel isolated,” Lancia said. “We want to build on that connection as much as possible. When they see their staff and teachers, it helps.”

On Wednesday, Lancia announced that books will be given to families who ask during pick-ups and do not have to return them. Parents can ask for books for whatever age group their child is.

“That is next on our list. In the meantime, a family has donated a free library out front of Canal. It’s a small library where you can take or leave books for free,” Lancia said.

 

A member of the Locker Project drops off produce to hand out to families who pick up their food. Chance Viles / American Journal

 

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