By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
When Ann Arbor Public Schools closed for the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday, March 13, the food service team took action.
Just three days later, a food distribution plan was ready to go so that all students who had come to depend on AAPS for breakfast and lunch had access to take-out versions of those meals.
That’s why this year’s “School Lunch Hero Day”—held every first Friday in May—has special significance.
When asked if he does indeed feel like a hero for delivering food twice a week to the distribution sites, driver Robert Edwards admits that in fact, he kind of does.
“I feel like I’m grabbing my cape and hopping on the bus to help nourish the kids,” said Edwards, who volunteered for the job right from the start and receives no additional compensation beyond his regular salary paid during this shutdown. “I think this is an essential program and I’m so happy that Ann Arbor Public Schools is looking out for the kids. The response is remarkable. Everyone is so appreciative.”
In a message sent to the AAPS community, Superintendent Jeanice Swift agreed that team is made up of heroes.
“This work is about much more than food; for these individuals, it’s about commitment, care, and connection,” Swift noted. “During this time of crisis, members of these teams have nurtured relationships with students and families, so much so that they regularly follow up to check in to ensure that our students have what they need at home and to offer additional support as needed.”
The team, which includes Chartwell food and Durham Transportation Services staff along with AAPS staff volunteers, has prepared and distributed more than 175,000 meals at 17 locations, providing balanced, take-out breakfast and lunch for 2,000 students. Extra food is given each time, so that students have enough food for seven days a week.
The meals are intended for children up to 18 years old and any student with special needs up to 26 years of age.
Meals are delivered by bus using AAPS-owned buses and drivers from Durham Transportation, who provide AAPS bus service.
Five of the 17 locations are local service agencies—Peace Neighborhood Center and four Community Action Network locations—which accept and then distribute meals to the nearby public housing complexes of Hikone, Green/Baxter, Bryant Community Center, and Arrowwood.
At the other 12 locations, food is distributed by Durham bus drivers and volunteer AAPS staff.
After the shutdown in March, AAPS and Chartwells immediately instituted a Food Service Hotline so families can share any food allergy needs for meals distributed at the locations or for families that are unable to get to a distribution site and need home delivery.
In addition to food, AAPS is now providing critical personal care products to home delivery families as well as extending to the distribution sites. Items include toilet paper, soap, clothes soap, diapers and wipes, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and feminine products.
Using community donations as well as a monetary donation from the Ann Arbor Community Foundation, AAPS will continue to grow the distribution of personal care products along with the food distribution.
AAPS will continue to provide food service through the end of the school year. Discussions are underway regarding summer food distribution.
Driver Robert Edwards says he’s impressed with the quality of the food the families receive and loves the fact that he gets to see some of the same kids he drives to Huron High School during the school year.
“I never got to say goodbye to them,” he said. “Their gives me a chance to engage with them, see how they’re doing, and know they’re eating nutritious meals at home.”