When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s second executive order (the first being her declaration of a state of emergency) shut schools in early March, school systems were called to pivot, too. The Detroit Public Schools Community District worked diligently to continue meal services for families who relied on free breakfasts and lunches. Here, Machion Jackson, assistant superintendent of operations of DPSCD, details the effort.
Hour Detroit: How were you able to continue to provide free meals to students despite school closings?
Machion Jackson: When school was in session, we served all of our children at no cost. It’s called the Community Eligibility Provision, and it’s a special program that we qualify for with the U.S. Department of Education that allows us to not only provide free lunch, but free breakfast as well for all of our students. We know that we continually qualify for that service based on the poverty level in Detroit, and so we felt very strongly about continuing to feed students in some fashion.
What was the initial response to the service?
Over a period of four days, we served some 92,000 meals across about 58 sites. Because of the constant volume that we witnessed, we knew that even with scaling down our operations to tend to the needs of our staff members, we needed to regroup pretty quickly to still service the masses. Once the shelter-in-place order was enacted, we moved to fewer sites and decided to use more of a grocery model.
What did the grocery model look like?
The meals that we serve aren’t true groceries. They’re modified-scratch, meaning meat is precooked, and if there’s pasta, the pasta is precooked — they would just need to warm and serve and/or place sauce on top, etc.
How did parents respond to the service?
Parents are just really grateful, not only for the opportunity to collect meals such as shelf-stable breakfast items, whole-grain cereals, cereal bars, shelf-stable milk, juice, and fresh fruit, but also pasta and chicken sandwiches and burgers with whole-grain buns and burritos with the healthier whole-grain tortillas. They’ve expressed pure appreciation for the district continuing the services. I’ve spoken with a couple of parents who indicated that they’re no longer working and that the process for gaining unemployment is arduous at best, so there are holding patterns between receiving their last paycheck and receiving unemployment benefits. The meals have allowed them to sustain. We’re very fortunate to have nearly 200 workers that have volunteered to distribute the meals across all of the sites.