COVID-19 spread could stop school meal program

John DuPont
Plaquemine Post South

The free “late lunch” and breakfast meal program remains intact for all students across Iberville Parish, but the ongoing spread of the coronavirus could soon bring it to a halt.

The Shelter-in-Place order Gov. John Bel Edwards imposed Sunday has left the future of the program uncertain. Other parishes have ceased the service, but Iberville has kept it in place, at least for now.

We’ve opted to continue providing meals through our delivery program as long as we potentially can,” Iberville Parish School Board Superintendent Arthur Joffrion said Monday. “We’re literally taking this day by day because while the well-being of our children is important, the well-being of our employees and volunteers is also important.”

Each person helping with the daily program must now have their temperature taken before they start work. Masks and gloves have become part of the protocol for the employees and volunteers who work to get the meals out.

The service provided more than 10,000 meals over a three-day span last week. The total exceeds what the public school system serves on a typical school day, Joffrion said.

The program is open to all students in the parish, regardless of where or whether they attend school.

While delivery of the meals have flowed smoothly, the supply count has been a challenge, largely because of slowdown on shipping of those goods during the pandemic.

For example, we have a pizza we’d serve for lunches, but we don’t have the box it goes in to serve the kids,” Joffrion said. “On a regular day, we’d have gotten those delivered much sooner than in the time we have to wait now.”

Even with the slowdown, the program has run smoothly since its first day, he said.

Joffrion credits a dedicated workforce for the success.

What we’re doing wouldn’t be achieved with the 300-plus volunteers, between bus drivers, cafeteria workers, clerical, teachers, and district staff who are preparing and packaging the meals, he said. “They’re working extremely long days and as soon as the meals go out, they’re beginning prep for the next day and waiting for whatever meals come back. Not many of those meals have come back, so it’s well planned, and we know the routes.”

The Stay at Home Order impacted the program slightly because of fewer volunteers than last week.

As much as we appreciate their services, we encourage those in the at-risk category to put themselves first and maintain their own health,” Joffrion sid.