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Fresh oranges, SunChips give Ralston kids a taste of school while classes out

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Wearing brightly colored pajama bottoms, Xavier and Isaiah Bruno climbed out of the car at Ralston Middle School on Wednesday morning and retrieved plastic sacks of food from food service director Judy Stoysich Kyle.

Inside the sacks were SunChips, cereal, fresh oranges, sandwiches and more — a lunch and a breakfast for each boy.

Providing free grab-and-go meals for students is one way the Ralston Public Schools are assisting families during the school closure for coronavirus.

How long will the meal program be offered?

As long as necessary, Stoysich Kyle said.

Ralston, like most Nebraska districts, is closed indefinitely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged schools to ensure continuity of meal programs during closures.

The CDC has suggested “grab-and-go” meals or delivering meals as ways to distribute food to students while avoiding student gatherings.

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District officials across the state are figuring out just how those food programs will work. Some are up and running, but some districts, including large ones in the Omaha metro area, have been on spring break this week.

Omaha Public Schools initially had partnered with the Food Bank of the Heartland to assist families in need, but has since announced it will also provide a limited number of grab-and-go meals.

In Papillion-La Vista, officials are planning to offer grab-and-go meals, with a slightly different setup from Ralston. Students will be able to pick up a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches every Monday morning from two sites.

Stoysich Kyle said the kids who come for Ralston meals “look like they just fell out of bed. Everybody’s sleeping late because they can.”

“A lot of times, Mom’s in a car with one or two car seats,” she said. “We don’t expect her to unstrap. We just run it out to them.”

The grab-and-go sites at the middle school and Ralston High School have had steady visits since opening Monday, though the rain Wednesday dampened numbers.

On Monday, the district served about 75 students at the middle school and nearly 60 at the high school. On Tuesday, use went up a bit from that, and Wednesday was tracking down a bit, they said.

Rhianna Buzbee, who graduated from Ralston High last year, brought her sister Szibella, 10, and brother Taiven, 7, to pick up meals Wednesday.

She said it’s likely to be a daily routine.

Ralston coronavirus food distribution

Isaiah and Xavier Bruno receive sacks of food from food service director Judy Stoysich Kyle at Ralston Middle School on Wednesday. Inside the sacks were SunChips, cereal, fresh oranges and more — a lunch and a breakfast for each boy. The free grab-and-go site is how Ralston is delivering meals during the school closure for coronavirus.

Her siblings picked up sack meals: lunch Wednesday and breakfast Thursday.

“It’s good that they offer this while this time of crisis is going on, to give people a little bit of hope and a little bit of reassurance,” Buzbee said. “Almost like, ‘We’re here for you. Things aren’t going great right now, but we still have your back with food.’”

She said she didn’t mind bringing her siblings to the school.

“We have been stuck in the house for almost five days now, and it’s getting crazy. It’s just a nice way to get outside and visit with other people.”

She said Ralston schools have a welcoming, familylike environment.

“For them to do something like this doesn’t even surprise me,” she said.

Ralston spokesman Jim Frederick said the meal program is similar to their summer meal program, except in the summer kids can eat together inside. That’s not allowed under the coronavirus guidance.

“This is a crazy time for everybody. It impacts each family differently. ... We would hope that (the meals) would help alleviate any additional stress that would be put on a family,” he said.

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A meal program in the Council Bluffs Community School District has had significant participation, according to district officials.

District officials stood up the program on Tuesday, distributing 1,240 meals — lunch for Tuesday and breakfast for Wednesday, spokeswoman Diane Ostrowski said.

The second day out, they served 1,870 meals.

In a statement, Vickie Murillo, superintendent of schools, said the meals are one way the district can support students and “take this worry away from parents.”

“Seeing how many of our students are taking advantage of the meals, I am so pleased we were able to begin providing them on our first day out of school,” she said.

The Omaha Public Schools are partnering with the Food Bank for the Heartland to assist families in need.

Food Bank for the Heartland is the largest food bank in Nebraska and Iowa.

On Monday, Omaha Public Schools will be providing a limited number of grab-and-go packages with several meals inside for students, the district said.

Four locations will participate: Skinner Magnet, Gateway Elementary, South High and Benson High.

Families will drive through to pick up food., 402-444-1077


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Joe covers education for The World-Herald, focusing on pre-kindergarten through high school. Phone: 402-444-1077.

Related to this story

While testing capacity for the virus is expanding in Nebraska and across the United States, the coronavirus test is not yet available to everyone who wants it. That has led to frustration among Americans concerned that the virus may be circulating undetected and that not enough testing is being done to pick up on it.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is asking Nebraskans to maintain a 6-foot distance between each other when shopping at a grocery store or at other public settings, and to comply with a request to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people. He also asked day care centers to give priority to health care and public safety workers when considering how to comply with a request to limit children to 10 per room.

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