Penelope Brewer opened a foam carton, picked up the barbecue sandwich inside and took a big bite.
It’s the seven-year-old’s favorite of all the school lunches.
But Brewer wasn’t at school because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has led governors across the country to shutter classrooms in hopes of stemming the spread. Rather, she and her parents stopped in Wednesday at Dowdy Park in Nags Head to pick up the lunch from a school bus loaded with meals.
“This is definitely an adjustment, but we’re getting used to it,” said Katie Brewer, Penelope’s mother.
The lunch delivery is part of the Dare County School’s program to feed students learning at home during the coronavirus social distancing policies. Many school districts in the nation are carrying on similar efforts, but Dare County stretches along the Outer Banks more than 80 miles. Delivery logistics and timing for the federally-funded feeding program there are extensive.
Staff working in three different cafeterias in Kill Devil Hills, Manteo and Buxton, prepare, cook and pack 440 breakfasts and 730 lunches each day, said Kelleta Govan, school nutrition director for Dare County Schools.
The main course favorites are still on the menu – chicken filet sandwiches, pulled-pork barbecue on a bun and corndog nuggets. Chocolate milk is the preferred beverage.
Wednesday’s lunch alone required 348 pounds of barbecue.
The cooks and managers get started about 5:30 a.m. to have breakfast ready in about an hour. Then 15 buses and three vans, traveling a total of 800 miles a day, carry the meals to 17 sites by 7:45 a.m. Lunch is delivered to the same sites by 11 a.m.
Govan got the call on Friday, March 13, about starting up the meal delivery program when schools closed. It had never really been done before at this scale.
She and her staff met that Sunday to work out hundreds of details and, after a restless night Monday, started making the deliveries on Tuesday.
“The first day went great,” she said.
Parents with their children drive up and school staff hand them the meal in the foam carton. Typically they see a cafeteria worker or a bus driver they know from school. Penelope was able to see her bus driver.
“It brings some normalcy to their day,” Govan said.
Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, email@example.com