It looked like dismissal time in the half-circle driveway at Merrill Middle School. A dozen cars were lined up in a queue that was beginning to spill onto Grand Avenue. But it was lunchtime, and the cars weren’t there to pick up students. They were picking up takeout meals.
Right on schedule at 11:30 AM, a DMPS delivery truck arrived loaded with today’s lunch and tomorrow’s breakfast for students whose spring break was extended indefinitely by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amy Graber teaches 2nd grade at Hubbell Elementary School. Thursday she was part of the volunteer crew distributing food at Merrill, one of more than 20 distribution sites across the district.
“No, I’ve never been a carhop before,” she answered when asked. “But I do have waitress experience. And I just wanted to do something to help. We (teachers and their students) miss each other.”
It showed. Within minutes, Graber and company had handled the lunch rush and reduced the queue to a no-waiting assembly line. Cars drove in, held up fingers to indicate the number of mouths they had to feed and were quickly on their way.
The Merrill crew benefitted from the experience of Michelle Burgess, Foodservice Manager at North High. She’s worked for the DMPS Food & Nutrition Department since 2002.
“I’ve only been at North since January,” she said, “but before that I was at CNC (Central Nutrition Center where the grab & go meals were prepared yesterday) and I also used to work at Hanawalt (one of Merrill’s elementary feeder schools) so I’m glad to be helping out in this neighborhood today.”
All of the customers were satisfied.
“You guys are awesome!” said one driver with four kids to feed.
“We’re gonna get full!” piped up a grinning young face from the backseat of another car.
DMPS is primarily a chain of eat-in cafes with 33,000+ regulars when it comes to foodservice, but it does have prior experience as a takeout operation during the summer months when food security becomes an issue for students during the extended break from school.
Still, these unprecedented circumstances required some educated guessing as to how much prep was necessary since RSVPs weren’t possible. Thursday was Day 1 of the district picking up where the Food Bank of Iowa and Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) left off last week in providing free food supplies for the DMPS community. Tomorrow, besides lunch and the following day’s breakfast, enough food will be provided to get families through the weekend. On Monday, the sites will be up and running again.