Klamath Falls, Oregon – As school districts prepare thousands of grab-and-go meals for students learning at home, packaged foods and even plastic snack bags are becoming scarce.
Fortunately for Klamath Falls City Schools Food Services, generosity is plentiful in Klamath Falls, whose community members and businesses have come forward to support this week’s distribution of 16,000 meals.
KFCS Food Services Director Brandon Sheppard found himself short-staffed during the district’s first week of at-home meals, as several high-risk kitchen employees protected themselves by taking leaves from work. To fill the gap, the district called upon paraprofessionals (classroom aides) like Karen Barron, who usually works on algebra or science with small groups of students at Klamath Union.
“I get to know kids on a personal level,” said Barron. “Some of their stories are really difficult, and I know that some of them really need this food. I’m proud to help where I’m needed.”
The district also appealed for community volunteers. Within 20 minutes of a district request sent through School Messenger, Sheppard was overwhelmed by calls.
“It was awesome,” said Sheppard. “People want to come together as a community, and every bit helps.”
While many callers lacked the food handling licensure required for kitchen work or sought work for ineligible students, several were put to work sewing protective face masks at home.
About 80 fabric masks made by Marta Mixell and her family were donated in time for the second week of meal-prep and distribution. These were in addition to 16 masks created by District Database Manager Marie Chinander.
“We already were way ahead of COVID-19 requirements in terms of safe food handling and hygiene practices in our kitchens,” said Sheppard, “but we are so grateful to have masks that add an additional layer of protection.”
Organizing a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches (10 meals) for each student presented another challenge. Again, the community responded. Sherms Thunderbird, Holiday Market, Albertsons and Eastside Liquor donated large bags able to hold a full week’s meals in a single, easy-to-handle package.
“With the community’s help, we are making this happen,” said Sheppard, who brings to the task six years of crisis management experience with the military, as well as a decade of restaurant management skills.
“There is no template for this project and there are many changes as we go. But even with all the challenges, we will push through.”