Finding ways to feed hungry kids in the MV School District

  • Freshly baked biscuits sit on a rack for breakfast sandwiches that Chris Michael made early Monday morning.

  • Buffi Loughery prepares lunch wraps for distribution to students at the Merrimack Valley School District on Monday morning. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Mary Weeks, who has worked at the Merrimack Valley School District cafeteria for 22 years, prepares drinks for the students on Monday morning.

  • Chris Michael, the food service director for the MV School District, talks with Michelle Gregg, the kitchen director for the middle school, about the bag distribution for the day on Monday morning, May 25, 2020. Michael helps with delivering the food as well as helping cook. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Julia Pelkey prepares pasta for the meals made for the week at Merrimack Valley School District on Monday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Chris Michael, the food service director for the MV School District, gets up early to start the process of getting both breakfast and lunch out the door at the high school. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Michelle Gregg, kitchen manager for Merrimack Valley Middle School, packs drinks into the bags set for delivery at the Merrimack Valley High cafeteria on Monday morning, May 25, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Chris Michael, the food service director, talks with Michelle Gregg, the kitchen director for the middle school, about the distribution for the day on May 25.

Monitor staff
Published: 5/26/2020 3:06:27 PM

Chris Michael is doing what he can to make sure students in Merrimack Valley have enough to eat, even if they’re not at school.

Michael, the food service director for the MV School District, and his staff have been making and giving out more than 2,000 meals per week during remote learning as part of the district’s free and reduced lunch and breakfast program.

After Gov. Chris Sununu announced that New Hampshire students would begin remote learning in March, Michael and other school food service directors from around the state got on a conference call to brainstorm ways to feed the students who might need help with food.

“We all knew it was going to be a need, we knew we were going to have to come up with a way to feed the kids,” Michael said. “There were about 60 of us on the call and we just threw a bunch of ideas at the wall and this is what stuck.”

Michael said about half of the MV School District food service workers are helping with the remote feeding program, while the other half are staying home to care for children or grandchildren who would otherwise be in school. They prepare the meals in schools throughout the district – Merrimack Valley High School in Penacook and the elementary schools in Boscawen, Loudon, Salisbury and Webster – and hand them out on Mondays (when students pick up lunches and breakfasts for Monday and Tuesday) and Wednesdays (when students pick up lunches and breakfasts for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday).

The pickups have been organized to minimize travel. So, a Merrimack Valley High School student who lives in Salisbury can get meals at Salisbury Elementary instead of traveling to Penacook to pick it up at MVHS. Or, if a family has students at various schools – Loudon Elementary and MVHS, for example – all of their meals will be available at one location.

For families that can’t make the pickups, Michael and Jim Carey are making deliveries. Carey, a paraprofessional at MV, delivers to about 40 different students every Monday and Wednesday and Michael carries another 11 meals on his delivery runs.

They are careful to keep their social distance during drop offs. They simply leave the meals on the doorstep, get back in their car and then give the family a call to let them know the food has arrived. The food service workers are also following social-distancing guidelines while making the meals and they are all wearing masks and gloves.

“The food service crew in the Merrimack Valley School District, led by Chris Michael and Wendy LaClair are truly unsung heroes,” said Randy Wormald, the assistant superintendent for SAU #46, which includes the MV and Andover districts. “They’ve been working tirelessly to provide meals for the food insecure. Their continued outreach to those in need exemplifies their true caring for the families in our communities.”

There are about 200 students in the MV district who are currently participating in the program. Michael was hoping for more than that since there are 700 students in the district who were part of the free and reduced program before remote learning. Families who have not signed up can go to mvpride.org to do so, and that includes families whose income levels have recently changed due to the coronavirus pandemic and may be newly eligible for the program.

Michael, a 1994 MVHS graduate who lives in Loudon, and his staff have also continued The Backpack Program, which provides students in need with two lunches and two breakfasts to help feed them over the weekend. About 80 students in the district were part of The Backpack Program before remote learning began and most of them are partaking in the current food service program. They get their “backpacks” of food (“Right now it’s just a Hannaford bag,” Michael said) as part of their Wednesday food pick up.

The backpacks may be make-shift, but the food is the real deal.

“We’re still able to get a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, which is great, the kids aren’t getting junk,” Michael said. “The first week we just made sandwiches, we didn’t know how long it was going to last, but then it kept going and we knew we were going to be in it for the long haul and these kids can’t live off of sandwiches.”

The remote feeding program will continue through the end of June. Michael is working on a summer plan right now.

“It might just be a bulked-up Backpack Program, but we think the need is going to be there this summer more than any other year,” he said.

Michael has also helped organize another local food giveaway for Merrimack Valley High School seniors – a graduation celebration drive-thru barbecue at Alan’s of Boscawen. The restaurant is donating all the meals and handing them out in their parking lot on Thursday from 11 am. to 1 p.m.

“We really feel for the kids having to miss out on so much this year; they didn’t have their prom or senior skip day or any of that final hurrah type stuff, so we thought at least we could do was buy them lunch for the day,” Alan’s manager Christina Langley said. “We wanted to let them know we’re thinking of them and we’re here for them.”

Seniors have put their orders in with Michael, who gave the final count to Alan’s. The restaurant will be decorated with balloons and signs, and the marquee will feature messages to the graduates.

“We’ve been here for almost 36 years and I’ve seen a lot of these kids grow up,” owner Alan Andrian said. “We’ve been here through good times and bad times, and with having this happen to them I just thought we would reach out and try to do something to put a little smile on their face.”




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