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Glendale Unified begins food distribution across 12 grab-and-go centers

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Chelsea Simmons, a 7-year-old first-grader, grabs her breakfast and lunch bag in the Glendale High School parking lot distribution area during Glendale Unified’s new grab-and-go drive-up meal service on Tuesday.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

Not all schools are ghost towns during the coronavirus pandemic.

Glendale Unified’s cafeteria staff gathered at 6 a.m. Tuesday to pack food into clear plastic bags in Glendale High School’s kitchen.

Some of the bags were transported to elementary schools, and about 250 bags were set aside to stock Glendale High’s meal service pick-up station located in the parking lot.

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The district launched 12 grab-and-go meal centers located on various school campuses, where families can drive or walk through to pick up a free breakfast and lunch per child on weekdays.

The service is available for any children 18 years old or younger, whether they attend a Glendale Unified school or not. District officials said school-packaged meals will be distributed during school shutdowns through May 5.

Equipped with hairnets, face masks and gloves, Toll Middle School cafeteria manager Lina Sarkis and Glendale High cafeteria worker Diana Adamyan listened to music playing on a portable speaker as they waited for families to pick up meals.

The menu on Tuesday consisted of a cinnamon crumble pastry, milk, orange juice, an apple, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, dried cranberries and raisins.

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When a car drives through, Sarkis holds up a sign reading “Social Distancing 6 Feet Away” on one side and “Pop Your Trunk” on the other.

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Cafeteria worker Janet Muradian reminds parents of the social distancing rules while they pick up meals for students at the Glendale High School parking lot distribution area.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

“How many kids?” Sarkis asked Abraham Rivera through the driver’s side window. Rivera asked for one bag for his son, Matthew, a junior at Glendale High.

When asked about the novel coronavirus and a two-week spring break, Matthew said, “It’s a big deal, but we have to make sure to be safe and start being productive even though there isn’t much to do.”

Vanessa Castillo, a parent of a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old, drove through Crescenta Valley High School’s station and said she had trouble finding food stocked in grocery stores so she’s appreciative of the grab-and-go service.

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A cafeteria workers hands out bagged meals for students at the Glendale High School parking lot distribution area during Glendale Unified’s grab-and-go drive-up meal service.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

Jennifer Chin Gonzales, the district’s director of nutrition services, met with staff last week to prepare the meal service.

Although cafeteria workers already meet hygienic standards to prevent foodborne illnesses, they reviewed additional guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as social distancing.

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According to Gonzales, there are about 150 nutrition services department staff members across the district and 94 agreed to come back to work. It was recommended that those who are 65 years old and older or have health issues stay home.

“When they started emailing us about starting to work, I was very happy. I feel like I’m doing something during this time,” Sarkis said.

“Like a soldier in the front lines,” she added.

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Cafeteria workers like Cielo Ramos, center, prepare bagged meals for students at Glendale High School for the Glendale Unified’s grab-and-go drive-up meal service.
(Raul Roa/Glendale News-Press)

During school closures, the state is continuing to fund school districts and extend the Seamless Summer Options program, which typically provides free breakfast and lunch to students when school is not in session.

“Based on what colleagues from other districts are telling us, they’ve got about 5% participation. That’s the rough ballpark we’re going to use,” Gonzales said.

Burbank and Los Angeles unified school districts started their school closure food distribution last week.

On Tuesday, Glendale Unified served 1,615 school-packed meal bags. Out of the district’s 25,789 students, about half are from low-income families and qualify to receive free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches from school.

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“Today will probably be a little slower because the word is still getting out to our families,” Gonzales said.

“What I see from other districts is that there is exponential growth as the week goes on. I suspect that’ll happen to us once neighbors start telling neighbors,” she added.

Glendale Unified posts grab-and-go center locations and schedules through gusd.net/meals.

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