KEARNEY — When coronavirus forced school closures for the rest of the school year, administrators and teachers scrambled to adapt lesson plans for virtual instruction and help students checkout electronics to complete schoolwork online.
Kearney School District decided giving students everything they need to work from home should include receiving the two meals per day that would be offered if the buildings were open.
KSD created a school meal delivery program for all children under 18 years old living within the district boundaries. Thirty faculty volunteers and kitchen staff members help prepare 800 daily orders, which provides both a lunch and a breakfast meal.
Kearney Assistant Superintendent Jeff Morrison said the program has grown from about 200 orders when it started on March 24. He said about 60% of the meals are delivered by bus and the other 40% are picked up at Kearney High School, Kearney Elementary or Dogwood Elementary.
Dave Schwarzenbach, Kearney High School activities director, worked closely with Morrison during the program’s launch and to help coordinate the day-to-day operation.
Schwarzenbach had originally looked for volunteers by reaching out to teachers, paraprofessionals and spring sports coaches who were already looking to fill the void of their seasons getting canceled. It expanded from there.
Kearney girls basketball head coach Troy Resler heard about the program by chance while helping his students retrieve items from their locker after spring break. Resler, who teaches physical education at Kearney Middle School, ran into the Kearney boys soccer coach Bill Forman who told him about an email asking for volunteers.
Resler signed up for all available dates and quickly signed up for even more as the program started to expand. He said it feels great to be able to help in a seemingly helpless situation.
“I think that anytime you do something that is right, you feel good about it,” Resler said. “You almost feel kind of selfish if you get too much gratitude out of volunteering in times like this because it’s just something you should do if you’re able to do it.”
Resler said it also helps that the program gives him a chance to get out of the house.
“You just go crazy if you sit inside all the time,” Resler said. “I’m like, ‘Man, I’m so glad to be out of the house.’ I love my wife and kids but it’s so nice to get up here and interact with other coaches and teachers while practicing social distancing.”
Kearney football coach Josh Gray, another volunteer, said he’s happy to help with a program that supplies food to kids and families who often count on the school providing those meals.
“Coaches and other teachers are obviously willing and wanting to jump in to help wherever we can for a community that we love and a community that really gives a lot back to the district,” Gray said.
He said he was impressed by Schwarzenbach and Morrison’s organizational efforts. Schwarzenbach created spreadsheets for volunteer sign-up and to direct the volunteers on where to go and what to do.
The kitchen staff prepares the meals and places them into coolers. One set of volunteers loads up the coolers onto buses. Another group of volunteers rides on the buses to help hand out meals.
“It’s almost like a machine now,” Gray said.
Morrison said volunteers are required to wear masks and practice social distancing. The program also altered its safety practices to include having kitchen staff leave before the coolers are picked up by volunteers to limit contact between those groups.
Morrison said the school plans to continue providing meals as the state allows through June 30.