Sandwiched between all the new ways school buses and classrooms are handling education is the new way food is delivered to students.
At Allen Road Elementary in North Syracuse, Traci Cherubin says her kitchen and cafeteria are quiet.
“So we’re doing only cold meals right now,” Traci said.
Schools have had to make changes to bring students back safely. That includes what they eat, where they eat, and when they eat. Cherubin has been making meals for students in the North Syracuse Central School District for 16 years.
“Every day it’s something different," she said, packing a lunch bag. "Today’s egg salad is the main. The kids get the egg salad, they get baby carrots, the dip, they’ll get a tossed salad with dressing, and either a fruit cup or fruit juice, or today they’re getting an apple.”
Some things have not changed.
“We still have to follow all the same nutritional guidelines from before. Pre-pandemic, we would be on the line serving the kids the hot meals. We miss the kids. That’s the big thing; seeing their little faces, telling us what their weekend was like," Cherubin said.
Despite schools closing in early spring, food service was still provided.
“We did a lot of stuff on the fly in the beginning," she said. "They had a group of girls working in the kitchen. They were doing a lot of prep work for us. Then a bunch of us, like two at a time, were at the schools giving meals out."
Patty Downs has worked in the kitchen at Allen Road Elementary with Traci for years. She also remembers how they changed everything overnight.
“Load the buses, the milk the crates, having to bring them up. Organizing, 'OK, we need to make sure we have enough breakfasts and enough lunches, and then if not, then we have runners,' " Patty says.
Breakfast service is also provided in a completely different way.
“For breakfast, we set up two tables: one at the main entrance for bus kids, and one down the hall for the parent drop-off kids," Cherubin said.
The biggest change of all is how the students get their lunches and where they eat now. Traci loads a metal cart full of bags and milk and starts off down the empty halls of the school.
“We bring it into the classroom, and just set it on the counter and then the teacher or the aid will distribute it. Then we sneak out and go to the next class," she said.
Traci slips out of a classroom, closes the door ,and adds, "That’s about all we get to see of the kids, sadly enough.”
Traci and Patty agree on what their biggest challenge has been while working through COVID-19.
"You just want to see their faces, give them a hug, and see their smiles on their faces when they come back to school," Patty said.
All school breakfasts and lunches are free of charge to students due to the pandemic. The fees are waived until December 31.