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School food service staff working hard to keep students fed while classes are out

Schools across Western New York are busy preparing and delivering breakfast and lunch for students even though they're not in the classroom right now.

ALDEN, N.Y. — School may be not be in session in the normal sense, but cafeteria staff are still working hard to feed students each week.

Governor Andrew Cuomo extended the PAUSE order Thursday, so New York State schools will now be closed until at least May 15.

That also means that districts will provide breakfast and lunch to kids on weekdays until then.

Workers are behind the scenes coming up with meal plans, prepping, cooking, packaging and in some cases delivering food to thousands of kids.

Alden Central Schools, for example, has provided 25,000 meals since students stopped attending regular classes in mid-March.

Alden, like other districts, offers curbside pickup and delivery by school bus on Mondays and Thursdays. The first distribution has meals for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. On Thursday, parents can get meals for the last two days of the school week.

The twice-weekly distribution poses some challenges, like coming up with meals that will stay fresh for a couple of days. Kitchen staff is also including cooking instructions in some meals because they have to be reheated.

The staff is also trying to create a menu without knowing exactly what will be in the shipment each week.

"Remember we are at the mercy of our food distributors. We don't know week in and week out what we're going to get, so our cook managers have to take a look at the produce they are getting and come up with a menu for the week," said superintendent Adam Stoltman. "My hat goes off to them also because that's not an easy task." 

Local businesses in Alden have stepped up and donated plastic and paper bags for the school to package up meals. 

Other businesses have donated lunch to the cafeteria staff who has been working to crank out well-balanced meals. People in the community have stopped by with coffee for workers who are handling the curbside pickup in the cold, snow, and rain.

A school nurse takes workers' temperatures and asks health screening questions, and they wear gloves and masks to ensure safety during food preparation.

The district is required to track the number of meals it hands out, and they're distributing so many that they're thinking about moving to a bar code system to better keep track of what's being given out.

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