With students out of school due to COVID-19, the Boonville R-I School District has stepped up to help feed kids during this time.

The district since March 18 is averaging 350 meals per day to feed students, Superintendent Sarah Marriott said.

She celebrated food service staff for continuing to make meals on a daily basis. Staff usually arrive 6 a.m. every day to get meals ready.

Two meals are served on weekdays — lunch and the next day’s breakfast. Meal distributions match the school calendar, so meals were not distributed the Friday before and Monday after Easter. Additional food was included Thursday, however, along with additional buddy packs, Marriott said.

"We will continue this as long as we are out of school during the regular school year,"she said.

Boonville R-I will be out the rest of the school year after Gov. Mike Parson issued a statement last April 9 to close schools for the remainder of the semester.

Only the buildings are closed, though, and school continues remotely with teachers and students until the final day of school May 14..

"We want to make sure our kids are getting the meals they need so that was a priority for us as a district,"Marriott said. "Normally, we provide breakfast and lunch in the school system on a daily basis. Delivering meals to homes and having a pick up location is unique."

The district is working on the logistics of providing a meal that can be heated at home, rather than distributing cold meals.

Families have two options. The first is parents or students can pick up meals every day when the school is normally in session on Spruce Street behind David Barton Elementary School from 8-10 a.m. It’s kind of a drive thru service, Marriott said. Meals are being delivered to families that cannot do pick-ups.

"[Delivery staff] ring the doorbell and leave the food for the family on their front porch, or their front entry way if they’re not able to accommodate the pick-up time," Marriott said.

Custodial staff as well as Randy Windsor, who is one of the custodial/maintenance staff members, and school kitchen staff are helping with the deliveries.

The district is trying to distribute as much of the perishable items it has to reduce food waste. This includes milk and cheese products and things like fruits and vegetables.

After the fresh food items, the district will move toward more frozen items that are packable and more transportable for families.

A positive of the continued meal service is the district has been able to keep staff on the payroll, Marriott said. Meal revenue likely will decrease in future, however, because the district will not receive as much in meal reimbursement funds from the state.

"There were free and reduced lunch programs and that’s going to be a decline in the revenue from the state level for food service and meal program reimbursement,"Marriott said. "Not that we are having to necessarily write extra checks for cost, we’re just receiving less revenue. But right now that’s kind of a low priority for us to make sure that we are feeding our kids."

With the number of meals doubling since the first day on March 18, Marriott said she anticipates those numbers to continue to rise the longer people are out of work or the longer the district is in a school closure. Parents are going to need meals for their children but Marriott is not sure if the rate increase will continue as drastically as it has for the past few weeks.

The district took a few different avenues to try and communicate to the public about the meal program. KWRT broadcasted a report and announcements were made through social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. Text messages and e-mails also were used, Marriott said.

"Kitchen staff also placed signage around town to just remind people this is available: here is the location, here are the pick up times and just trying to encourage more students to participate," Marriott said.

Businesses have donated to the delivery of meals to students. W-K dealership in Boonville made a financial contribution to the food service program to help supplement material the district may need. The district needed things they do not typically keep in mass quantities, such as food storage.

"Normally, we are serving food on trays. We can’t do that, so we have to have food storage, such as bags to put the food in,"Marriott said. "We have also had a lot of other community members offer assistance, [including] financial assistance. I think right now we are doing OK, but we do appreciate everyone’s concern and willingness to help."