Since Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order shut down schools more than a month ago — at first temporarily and recently for the rest of the school year — school districts have organized resources to keep providing food to students.

When Stoughton Area School District officials realized a few weeks ago their new onsite meals distribution wasn’t reaching many students, they quickly shifted gears and adopted a meals delivery program that so far has seen a vast increase in participation. And likely fewer hungry kids and youths during the closures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

The program is open to any student 18 and under (or 21 and under and not yet graduated) residing in the district, regardless of free/reduced lunch status, and children not yet in kindergarten. Daily onsite meal distribution started on March 18 at four locations, providing lunch for the day and breakfast for the next, with around 10 volunteers at each site to help verify students and distribute meals.

SASD community information and resource coordinator Molly Shea said the district had prepared 4,120 meals in the first 10 days, but by April 6, officials could see something was off, as only around a quarter of them were being picked up.

“This was one indicator that we needed to fine tune our process,” Shea wrote in an email to the Hub last week.

They heard that the Edgerton School District, which also contracts with Taher Food Service, was going door-to-door in their meal service to students. Shea said after getting a few tips, Stoughton created its own process, and within days had it set to roll out Friday, April 17.

During that time, she said the district’s food service team had ordered supplies and prepped their assembly process while the transportation team confirmed drivers, built delivery routes and called to each family to inform them of the new process and protocols, including social distancing measures.

In the first week, the district delivered 6,878 meals to 184 addresses, Shea said, with the number of students increasing from 300 on Monday, to 358 on Wednesday to 401 on Friday.

SASD food service director Jacob Kleven, who started last month, has three full time and one half-time team member helping to pack food bags, which takes around three and a half hours. On Monday, Wednesday and Fridays, the group starts at 7 a.m. to meet the 10:45 a.m. ship-out deadline.

The bags contain necessary meal components, including fresh fruits and vegetables, canned fruits, frozen vegetables, and a variety of easy to cook entrees, fresh bakery and milk with every meal. Shea said it takes around a day and a half to get all the meal components prepared for the three assembly and distribution days.

Drivers and volunteers arrive at Sandhill Elementary School at 10:45 a.m on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays to load the buses for nine routes per day. Each bus includes a driver and generally one volunteer with a route sheet. To keep social distancing, the volunteer delivers to students’ steps or front door of apartment buildings, and the driver gives a honk as they pull away to alert them of the delivery.

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.