In a time of pandemic, school lunch pickups create continuity

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WENATCHEE — Like every district throughout the state of Washington, local schools have been closed since March 17 to help stop the spread of coronavirus. But one program keeps going.

When kids come to Columbia Elementary to collect their lunch, Nani Island knows most of them by name. She’s been kitchen lead here for three years, and her work didn’t stop when schools closed by order of Gov. Jay Inslee, to protect public health.

She and fellow staffers distribute about 170 lunches each day at Columbia. At schools around Wenatchee and in every North Central Washington district, lunch is now free to every child up to age 18, whether an enrolled student or not.

Buses deliver meals to some locations, and school kitchens, like Columbia’s, are open daily for pickup.

Jordan Jones grabbed lunch this week for four of his seven kids, ages 6 years old down to 18 months. His oldest boy is a Columbia student. “It’s a nice little break from being caged up in the house,” he says. ” … Still having a presence at the school is nice, so they can keep that familiar in their minds.”

The free school meal programs run through April 24, when the governor’s closure order expires. After that, classes will either reopen with an option to run through June 19, or choose another route if coronavirus still poses a public health threat.