By Gaige Davila
School buses will zip through the Laguna Madre area’s streets soon, but not with students on board.
The “Grab & Go, Eat at Home” program is PI-ISD’s school-year version of meal programs started in March, when PI-ISD suspended in-person classes after COVID-19 cases started rising in Texas. Leading the program is PI-ISD’s new Food Service Director, Angela Olivares, a Brownsville native who studied food science and nutrition from Texas A$M University, working as a Food Operations Director at a large grocery store chain.
“When I did a lot of community involvement, I saw the need for having someone our community trusted to provide meals and nutrition to our students,” Olivares said, describing her transition from retail to a school district.
“Through these unprecedented times, I was on the front lines of it from the beginning,” Olivares said, noting the COVID-19’s pandemic strain on grocery stores and providing food to children. “I think it’s a good transition for me because I’ve seen it firsthand.”
Olivares said she wants PI-ISD’s child nutrition department to be an extra hand for Laguna Madre area families needing to feed their children this school year. About 25 staff members are in the Child Nutrition Department, with another 14 in the Transportation Department.
The “Grab & Go, Eat at Home” program used the district’s bus routes to determine its 102 stops along the Laguna Madre area, where students and parents can walk to pick up hot breakfast and lunch meals, regardless of grade level. PI-ISD will use school buses, with its seats removed, to transport meals, packaged in bento-style boxes inside coolers, after which the cold and hot food will be placed in a bag and distributed to students. The program is similar to other programs outside of the region, but PI-ISD’s program is unique in using its bus routes to drop off food, Olivares said.
The program, which starts on Aug. 24, the first day of school, will also serve food curbside, as the district did from May to August, at Port Isabel High School and Garriga and Derry Elementary.
All the meals will be made at Port Isabel High School, Garriga Elementary and Derry Elementary, with food from Labatt Food Services, the district’s food provider.
Unlike the spring and summer food programs, only students enrolled at PI-ISD can pick up the meals, using their student identification numbers or a district meal card, the latter provided by the district. In the spring and summer programs, any person under 18 could receive a meal from the district’s curbside food program.
Curbside meal service will still be available, from Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Port Isabel High School, Garriga Elementary and Derry Elementary.
“My staff is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that we get the meals to our students,” Olivares said. “They take pride in what they do each and every day.”
The first meal of the year will be cheeseburgers, Olivares said. Tamales and quesadillas, and pizza on Fridays, are also part of PI-ISD’s to-go menu.
Locations, times and routes for bus stop meal pickup will be posted on Friday Aug. 21 on www.pi-isd.net. To contact the PI-ISD Child Nutrition department, call (956) 943-0095.
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