New Food Closet and Low Student Turnout to Food Services

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Photo By Katelyn Newton

A sample of one of the hot lunch meals available for pick-up at Rio Americano. Students receive a hot lunch for the day of pick-up and a cold breakfast for the following morning on weekdays.

Josh Zezzo and Katelyn Newton

The San Juan Food Closet has recently opened, serving families in need with one bag of non-perishable foods per month. Families can visit the Food Closet in addition to receiving free breakfast and lunch for students on campus.

The Food Closet runs year round from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m on every Tuesday, and runs on Thursdays from 1 p.m to 4 p.m, but the food closet is not open on non school days.

The food closet is maintaining safety protocol, by requiring face coverings to be worn and social distancing to be practiced at all times. If you or a family member are experiencing any symptoms of Covid-19, they advise you to stay home until symptoms improve.

In addition to the new Food Closet, free curbside meals will continue to be available on campus every weekday. The meals will now be served once a day from 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

“Now we’re supplying meals for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so they pick up six meals on Fridays,” said Doug Gwiazdon, Nutrition Services Supervisor I at Rio Americano.

Gwiazdon explained that the school is seeing a significant drop in students using the nutrition services resources throughout the pandemic.

“The most we usually serve is like 29 versus our normal 700,” Gwiazdon said.

The less than 30 students that pick up curbside meals are mainly students from the ILS program who place orders everyday for pick-up while attending in-person school. The other 10 meals are usually attributed to parents picking up meals for their kids.

Last year Rio Americano had a student enrollment of around 1,100 kids, approximately 64% of which would get their meals from school, or around 700 students each day. This year however, Gwiazdon has gotten to know everyone who uses the service personally.

“I know them all real well right now,” Gwiazdon said, referring to the small number of people taking advantage of free curbside meals. “I think it has a lot to do with demographics in the area in some areas schools do pretty well, but again it’s so random.”

The decreased percentage of students picking up curbside meals has led to changes in the Nutrition Services staff, cutting six employees down to two. 

“The district has restricted our hours so we currently work between four and three and a half hours daily,” Gwiazdon said. “That time is spent, largely on preparing the 2 meals we serve a day, cleaning our facility, placing/receiving food orders and preparing for the following day.”

Not only has the unusually low amount of meals served affected the staff, but Gwiazdon is concerned about how so few students are receiving food.

“Take for example Encina where their kids eat free year-round under normal conditions, and they’re not feeding anybody,” Gwiazdon said. “I can’t figure it out. It’s all free.”

Both the Food Closet and Free Curbside Meals will continue to be available for students throughout the school year, and Doug Gwiazdon and Nutrition Services are eager to serve students and ensure students in the community have access to food.

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