Jamestown Public Schools is doing its part in caring for the minds, spirits and stomachs of its students -- even when school isn't in session.

JPS lunch program launched a free meal program last week to help combat hunger in the community due to the closure of schools amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's an option for districts to provide food service in the school closure," said Rob Lech, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent. "It's part of our summer food program and so we can just extend that because school is not in session.

"We felt that we needed to provide meals for those who really depend upon the school for some of those meals," Lech said. "We felt we needed to get it off and running as quickly as we could."

Lech commended the district's food service department for the quick turnaround and delivery systems put into place mere days after Gov. Don Burgum announced the closure of all schools until further notice.

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The program began on March 19 and the district has served more than 1,600 packed meals as of March 25. The program has recently implemented online ordering. Interested patrons can visit the alert center on the Jamestown Public Schools website to access the online order form.

"We've already seen an increase in volume (Wednesday) based on that change," Lech said. "We know people's schedules vary (and) we wanted to eliminate as many barriers as possible for people to access the program."

The district's lunch numbers increased the first day of online orders, serving 447 meals.

The Jamestown Public Schools free meals program offers community members the option of cold breakfast and cold lunch to be ordered on a daily or weekly basis. The program is free to children 18 or under regardless of school attendance or affiliation. JPS also offers adult meals at a $4 charge.

"You could have a 2-year-old who needs lunch service and through this program, we can provide that (to) essentially any child in the community of Jamestown," Lech said. "Whether they attend St. John's Academy, Jamestown Public Schools, Medina Public Schools - if they live in town we are willing to feed them."

The program has four pickup sites currently located at Lincoln, Roosevelt and Washington Elementary and Jamestown Middle School. Directions for pick up and contact information for each site are located at https://www.jamestown.k12.nd.us/updates/index.

JPS has not only made the shift to online ordering but also provides at-home delivery options if there is an inability to get to a dropoff site.

"We just felt that with the environment we are in it was something we needed to think about," Lech said of the delivery option. "We don't have students in the building so with some of the staff that we have in place we felt that we had the capacity to do that so we felt like we should provide that option as well."

Lech said that as long as the schools are closed to students, the district will be utilizing the program. The superintendent added that if schools are fully reopened and students are allowed back into the buildings the district will transition back to a traditional food service program. The district has divided the food service staff into teams in order to accomplish the feat.

"We have very, very talented teams," said Shelley Mack, JPS food service director. "It's very stressful because in 24 hours we had to have this together. It's day-to-day that we are making changes but I think we have done very well."

The coronavirus has disrupted rhythms of normalcy in the community but Mack said she hopes the community knows the services are provided to benefit residents of the Buffalo City. A self-deemed planner and organizer, Mack said that Jamestown Public Schools is receiving calls from community businesses looking to donate food and produce. The district has also received calls from organizations looking to help with deliveries. Mack thanked the community for its support of the program.

"We miss our kids," Mack said. "It's hard getting these lunches ready and not being able to see those kids' faces. I think that is our No. 1 thing that we miss but I hope this helps to provide some information to the community that these are free meals that are very nutritional. So we are out there to continue our service."

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