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ARRSD food distribution off to good start

For Athol Daily News
Published: 3/18/2020 7:14:52 PM
Modified: 3/18/2020 7:14:44 PM

ATHOL – Many people worried that the closure of public schools would mean that children throughout the commonwealth would go without the nutrition they get each day at school. Such is not the case, however. And in it appears the first day of food distribution to students in the Athol Royalston Regional School District went very smoothly.

The office of Superintendent Darcy Fernandes said 415 youngsters were given meals Tuesday morning.

“It worked great,” said Fernandes during an interview Tuesday. “I was out there this morning. Bus drivers were on time. Our food staff were loading food onto the buses and going with the bus drivers to each area to serve. The buses rolled at 9 o’clock and some of our routes, especially in Royalston, take a little while.”

Buses are delivering food each day to regularly assigned bus stops, two hours after the regular pick-up time for elementary school students.

“Our staff was in really good shape, because they started preparing food yesterday. So, they already had today’s food ready to go before they left work (Monday).”

Fernandes said her office was contacted by the local Salvation Army to offer assistance but added the help wasn’t needed.

“The one good news with the Athol Royalston School District,” she said, “is that we feed 100 percent of our students for free. We don’t have to worry about payroll and such for our food services because we are a 100 percent feeding school district. We’re not in a situation where we’re going to lack supplies, because we’re supplemented through the federal government.”

Unlike many other districts, the ARRSD maintains its own food services staff rather than contracting out the program to an outside business or organization.

“We take care of everything ourselves.” Fernandes said. “We hire all our own employees.”

She said that, basically, even with schools closed the district is providing services it would have offered were it operating normally.

“It was really and easy decision for us to move forward with (food distribution), unlike some other districts,” she said. “They’re in a situation where their cafeterias are run on kids buying food. We’re not in that situation, so it made it much easier for us to put this system together.”

Fernandes added providing food will not be the only service provided during the shutdown.

“We’re not only here as a provider of food,” she said, “but also as a way to provide support for families in anything else they need. Our lines are open. If families are finding they’re in a situation and they need help, they can call us. If we don’t offer the service, we can at least get them in contact with other service providers.

She said efforts are being made to compile a list of organizations that can provide a wide array of family services.

In addition, said Fernandes, the district is working to “somehow provide families with some help if they’re running into any type of medical issues that are not COVID-related but need a quick nurse check, or whatever. We’re in the process of getting that up and running to help the local agencies avoid being inundated with minor problems. Every day we’re working to come together with that.”

Anyone needing assistance should call the main district phone number: (978) 249-2400. Staff will be on hand each day from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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