Bit by bit, whether on foot or in a vehicle, people came into the parking lot at Edgewood Elementary School to pick up a package of three meals, enough to keep children nourished through the next morning as schools remain closed throughout Maryland during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Edgewood Elementary is one of 17 sites where Harford County Public Schools food and nutrition staff have, since Tuesday, been distributing free meals to families so children who would normally get breakfast or lunch at school can still have access to meals.
Kristen Sudzina, assistant supervisor for food and nutrition services, noted that the situation with COVID-19 is “always evolving,” and school system officials are working with school administrators and community partners to find more distribution sites.
“It’s always changing, so we’re always looking and trying to reach as many children as possible,” she said.
School system staff have been preparing hundreds of meal packets each day at locations such as Aberdeen and Edgewood high schools. The packets include breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack — people can get lunch and dinner for the day they pick up the packets and breakfast for the next morning, according to HCPS officials.
The kitchen at the rear of Edgewood High was a hub of activity late Thursday morning as staffers put the meal packages in large coolers and loaded them into vans headed to various distribution sites. Staffers, working in teams of two, would spend two hours at the sites, handing out the packages.
Daren Zeller, area specialist for food and nutrition, said the staffers in the field are “our true heroes.” He said the families receiving the meals are “just full of smiles and very thankful, and it makes it all worth it.”
The distribution system is being operated through HCPS’ Summer Food Service Program; children ages 2 to 18 are eligible to receive the meals.
Students must be present when families go to the distribution sites, in accordance with federal regulations, according to HCPS Superintendent Sean Bulson.
“As long as we see the students, we can give that food out, so we’re hoping people can keep getting out there,” he said.
Staff delivered 1,159 meal packages around Harford County Wednesday — 100 packages, or 300 meals, were distributed at Edgewood Elementary that day, and 125 packages had been prepared for the site Thursday, according to Sudzina.
Parent Daryl Philips drove up to the Edgewood Elementary distribution point Thursday morning. He said the meal program is “a big help,” especially since the Harford County school bus driver is currently out of work.
“I think it’s a good idea,” the Edgewood resident said. “The kids still need to eat.”
Philips’ children attend Joppatowne Elementary School, Magnolia Elementary and Magnolia Middle School. He said they received packets of homework during their last day of school March 13.
“They do their work, then we do family stuff,” he said of how the children are using their time while off from school.
Tony Jones walked up with his 13-year-old nephew, Dayon Blackston, who attends Edgewood Middle School. Jones, who has two children of his own, said his nephew has spent time at home or seeing his friends and doing activities such as visiting the local skate park.
“They’re in the house all day so you need to feed them, and he’s a growing boy so he needs about five, six meals a day,” Jones joked about his nephew.
Jones also praised the meals program, as he has been laid off from his job as a carpet installer during the pandemic.
“I’m just happy that somebody cares. Somebody cares about these kids,” he said.
Food and nutrition staffers Terese Brown and Leah Miller, who work in the cafeterias at Edgewood High School and Magnolia Middle School, respectively, were on duty at the Edgewood Elementary site Thursday. They greeted the recipients and spoke with them briefly as they handed them packages, one per child.
“It’s great,” Brown said of the program. “It’s been fun, too, getting to know a lot of people.”
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Miller said “it’s just encouraging” to see how much people appreciate the meals, and she has been getting to know the children as they and their families come back each day.
“It makes you feel good, just to know they’re getting their meals and eating, getting three nutritious meals a day,” she said.
The meals have been made up of food and drinks that were available on site at Harford County’s 54 schools, as well as its warehouse, and the school system is working with its vendors to create meals with a mix of sandwich meats, cereals and fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Our goal is to ensure we’re providing a nutritious, well-balanced meal to our children,” Sudzina said. “Thad’s our mission, that’s our goal [in Food & Nutrition Services], and we continue with that practice even with this [delivery] service.”
Harford County meal distribution sites
Here are locations where meals will be distributed, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. unless otherwise noted:
Aberdeen Middle School — 111 Mt. Royal Ave., Aberdeen
Abingdon Elementary School — 399 Singer Road, Abingdon (12:15 to 1 p.m.)
Affinty Old Post Apartments — 101 Hanover St., Aberdeen
Bel Air Elementary School — 30 E. Lee St., Bel Air (11 to 11:30 a.m.)
Church Creek Elementary School — 4299 Church Creek Road, Belcamp
Cunion Field — 1702 Trimble Road, Edgewood
Dublin Elementary School — 1527 Whiteford Road, Street (noon to 12:30 p.m.)
Edgewood High School — 2415 Willoughby Beach Road, Edgewood
Edgewood Elementary School — 2100 Cedar Drive, Edgewood
George D. Lisby Elementary School — 810 Edmund St., Aberdeen
Hall’s Cross Roads Elementary School — 203 E. Bel Air Ave., Aberdeen
Havre de Grace Elementary School — 600 S. Juniata St., Havre de Grace
Havre de Grace Middle School — 401 Lewis Lane, Havre de Grace
Joppatowne Elementary School — 407 Trimble Road, Joppa
Playground off Ashton Lane, Abingdon (11 a.m. to noon)