The Hopewell Valley Regional School District is delivering free or reduced price lunches to more than 100 students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At present, the district is delivering about 125 lunches a day in a three-day block each week, according to administrators.
“We have moved to delivering food in three-day blocks (delivering three meals at one time) because some people were not taking every day delivery. We have not seen an increase (in the number of students receiving lunch) because the requirements are set by the federal government and we have tried to account for everyone,” Superintendent of Schools Thomas Smith said.
Employees of the school district’s contracted food service, Pomptonian, assemble the lunches and bus drivers pick up the lunches and deliver them to the students’ homes.
“Since many of the same families also require food pantry deliveries, our drivers also provide deliveries for the Hopewell Valley food pantry,” Smith said.
As district administrators planned for remote learning in anticipation of Gov. Phil Murphy’s order closing schools, they also established the logistics for students who qualify for the free and reduced price lunch program to receive meals.
“This is a very challenging time for everyone. It is particularly challenging for families who are food insecure. Without the efforts of Denise Menza, our food service director, and our bus drivers, this could not happen,” Smith said. “We rely on them for these deliveries.”
The school district has partnered with municipal officials and religious leaders to deliver food pantry groceries to people in need in Hopewell Township, Pennington and Hopewell Borough.
“We have a number of families who do not have students in the school district who also need help. (On one recent day), we delivered 27 bags of groceries and we were set to deliver 30 bags this week,” Smith said.
The superintendent said school district administrators anticipate that additional families will need assistance in the upcoming weeks.
“Once we began making deliveries to our students who are on the free and reduced lunch program, several families asked if additional meals were available.
“Our food service is only set up to provide lunch, so I reached out to the mayors of each town to see if they could assist us in developing a community food pantry. They were on board from the start,” Smith said.
“Joe Lawver, the mayor of Pennington, has done a remarkable job of putting it all together. Deb Linthorst, the president of the Board of Education, has also done a great job organizing a lot of the online programming.” he said.
Smith said Hopewell Valley Mobile Food Pantry dispatcher Margaret Fowler and her sons have been helpful in providing assistance with shopping and delivery of food pantry groceries for seniors in the area.