ELGIN — Oregon schools remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but each weekday members of the staff at Stella Mayfield School in the tiny town of Elgin open their hearts to its children.
Two Elgin School District employees distribute free lunches at Stella Mayfield’s east entrance between 11 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday. Anyone 18 or younger can grab a lunch for free, but the majority of the 50 or so youth who come each day are Stella Mayfield students, according to Megan Myers of the Elgin School District, which has about 400 students.
Myers, a preschool educator, prepares and distributes the meals each day along with Candy Marago, a food service employee. Myers said providing the meals to children is a labor of love.
“It is my favorite part of the day because I get to see the children and interact with them,” Myers said.
Main entrees include turkey bologna and cheese sandwiches; beef, bean and cheese burritos; turkey salami and cheese sandwiches; mini corn dogs; and pizza. Milk, fruits and vegetables also come with the meals.
Myers said the youth have a clear favorite for the summer’s most popular entree.
“Stuffed cheese sticks,” she said, speaking of breaded mozzarella cheese.
Rod Spikes, a member of the Elgin School Board, said the meals provide a greater service than ever for children because of how the economy is impacting families.
“For some of these kids it may be the only really good meal they get (in the day),” Spikes said. “It is a great thing for them.”
Spikes added the meals could provide a financial benefit as well.
“It reduces the burden on their families,” he said.
The Elgin School District’s summer lunch program, which food service supervisor Kim VanCleave heads up, receives funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The federal agency reimburses participating school districts for the meals they serve.
The Elgin School District has been offering free summer lunches through this USDA program for at least a decade. The local program was cut several years ago before being restored with help from Elgin School District Superintendent Dianne Greif.
“She pushed hard to get it back,” Myers said.
Stella Mayfield students, like all of those in Oregon schools, have not been allowed to go into their schools since mid-March due to the pandemic. The lunch program, however, gets students back to Stella Mayfield even though they cannot go inside.
“It is a good way for them to stay in contact with their school,” Spikes said.
Greif credited Myers and Marago with doing an excellent job of making children feel at home when they come for their lunches.
“They are spectacular. They are so glad to see them and so welcoming,” Greif said. “It makes all the difference.”
Myers said the meal program is giving Stella Mayfield students a chance to place a name and face with a familiar voice. She explained that while doing playground duty during the school year she calls students in, in booming fashion.
“Everybody here knows my voice,” Myers said.
She said on a number of occasions, children getting lunches told her they recognized her voice.
Children picking up their lunches sometimes receive a bonus when they see their classmates, some of whom they may not have seen in recent months.
“They are excited to see each other,” Myers said.
Spikes said he is glad the lunch program is making it possible for children to see each other more often.
“Not being together is tough on kids,” Spikes said.