As the fight against COVID-19 continues, one of the major focuses is on feeding folks, especially children.
In Mansfield, the school district has joined forces with the community help network Common Ground, Bethlehem Baptist Church and El Primo restaurant to make sure meals are being distributed to families on a daily basis.
On its own, Mansfield ISD has provided approximately 120,000 meals to date through free lunches and breakfasts (for the next day) for every child Monday through Friday. Meals are available to all kids ages 18 and under (even toddlers), and for adults with special needs up to age 21.
Children do not have to be Mansfield ISD students to receive a meal.
“First, so many families rely on school meals for two out of three daily meals for their children during the school week. Many of those families have now experienced layoffs, making their financial situation even harder,” said Rita Denton, MISD Director of Student Services. “For some kids, we are the only full meals that they receive. It is important that we nourish all of our kids through the shutdown because they are still active and still learning and growing.
“Second, it is significant for all kids because of the social-emotional aspect. It supports familiarity, encourages routine and creates a special rhythm to their distance learning day. Many parents are working remotely while also teaching their kids, and our free meal program removes a little pressure.”
No sign up is required. Kids do not have to qualify for the free and reduced program or pre-order in any way. Simply show up or bring supporting documents.
“We also accept bikers and walkers, as long as they respect social distancing,” Denton said.
Kids looks forward to meal pickup
The meals are picked up curbside in a two-lane pick-up line.
Pickup times are from 11 a.m. to noon. The car drives down the double-sided lane, and each car is asked how many children they have and what type of milk they would like. If children are not present in the vehicles, supporting documents, such as a student ID, a school schedule, a report card or a birth certificate, are requested.
Denton said MISD is serving approximately 9,000 meals in one hour between six sites. This is a federally funded program similar to the summer meals program.
“The kids love seeing their teachers, principals and lunch ladies on the curb, and they feel extra loved,” Denton said. “We get to say, ‘keep reading,’ and we get to see their smiles. Parents have mentioned that it is the best part of the day.”
Mansfield ISD distribution sites are:
Lake Ridge High School, 101 N. Day Miar Road, Mansfield.
Della Icenhower Intermediate School, 8100 Webb Ferrell Road, Mansfield.
D.P. Morris Elementary School, 7900 Tin Cup Drive, Mansfield.
Glenn Harmon Elementary School, 5700 Petra Drive, Arlington.
Mary Jo Sheppard Elementary School, 1701 FM 1187, Mansfield.
Annette Perry Elementary School, 1261 S. Main St., Mansfield.
“I am so proud of my incredible food service team for stepping up to the plate to create this process on a dime’s notice,” Denton said. “We want all the kids to know how much we miss them in our lunch lines. The service method is definitely nontraditional, but our meals still include all of their favorite ingredients – and we have even worked in some fun treats.”
BETHLEHEM BAPTIST CHURCH
While helping feed the community is nothing new for Bethlehem Baptist Church, Pastor Michael Evans and his congregation have upped their contributions in response to the many more in need thanks to coronavirus.
Serving meals from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Wednesdays at the church, 1188 W. Broad St., Evans said they have provided meals for over 250 families through the past month. The food comes from the Tarrant Area Food Bank, with the help of organizations such as Mansfield Cares and Common Ground, along with the church family, he said.
“We stock up the groceries in assembly line, cars drive up, and then we put the groceries in,” Evans said. “We’re all gloved up, we have our masks on, and we find ourselves consoling people.”
Evans said that even though the distribution times begin at 10 a.m., cars start lining up around 8 a.m.
“We’ve people driving up in BMWs, Mercedes, they’re just outdone. We tell them we’ll get through this – and we will. Mansfield pulls together,” he said. “It’s mind boggling. We had 98 cars this past Wednesday.”
Evans said church member Marilyn Harris is leading the project.
El Primo’s restaurant owner Todd Tonore also serves on the Mansfield ISD Education Foundation Board. Being a man who makes his living through food, one thing caught his attention, approximately 15,000 of the 35,500 students in the district (43 percent) are on the free or reduced lunch plan.
When the district was shut down because of COVID-19, he knew these children would still need meals. So he and his restaurant joined in the effort, and have provided food for over 9,000 children in the past four weeks, Tonore said.
“It’s simply the right thing to do,” he said. “We have been blessed to have the financial ability to do this with the help of local business owners and private donations from many.”
Along with working alongside the MISD, El Primo’s has reached out elsewhere in the community to make sure folks remain fed, Tonore said. This includes having fed 850 hospital staff at Methodist Mansfield this past week, 350 nursing home staff at nine different facilities in Mansfield this week, with plans to feed 375 first responders next week.
The 9,000 youths served were pickup. All the others are delivered.
“I appreciate everyone that has helped us with this community service,” Tonore said. “We live in a great city with great people.”
COMMON GROUND NETWORK
Comprised of volunteers from churches, civic organizations and agencies that have one purpose – assisting under-resourced families in the community – the Common Ground Network has also joined in to help feed their neighbors.
“Mansfield takes care of our own. I feel very lucky to live here,” said Suzy Herrmann, co-chair of Common Ground’s Feed the Kids program.
Between the food they are providing and extra meals from the MISD, the organization has distributed about 1,000 bags in four weeks, with each bag containing four meals and some snacks, Herrmann said.
“These meals are meant so kids can fix them themselves,” she said. “Some parents are still working.
“Who could have ever imagined these times? We have to be there for each other.”
Common Ground is distributing meals from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, at two locations each day. The schedule and locations for each day are:
Monday – 210 Smith St., a city parking lot; Creekwood Church West, 7701 FM 1187.
Wednesday – Walnut Ridge Baptist Church, 1201 SH 360; Inglesia Rebano Church, 7300 S. Cooper St.
The process is the same as with the MISD distribution, Herrmann said. Folks drive up, stay in the car, and if they have no kids with them they show proper documents. However, Herrmann said no one is going away hungry, even if they are from another city.
“The need is just rising continually,” she said. “Just show up at the locations and we’ll take care of you.”