The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided a grant that gives all students in our district free lunch because of the growing economic uncertainty caused by Covid-19. This program started on September 8th, 2020 and will go on until the end of December.
Copper Hills junior, Alexander Montilla, was surprised when a free meal was given to him Tuesday morning in the cafeteria. Juggling classes, a social life, a pandemic, along with financial stresses, Montilla had some weight lifted off of his shoulders, “My dad almost lost his job, he couldn’t work for months…my mom couldn’t work either.”
“I was super confused because they just let me go when I got my food, I was like ‘Oh what!’” Montilla said. His reaction was not new to the cafeteria staff who experienced this from many students.
“There are many homeless students, we don’t even know where or who they are. But we know they’re there.” Montilla said. He is one of the many students dealing with financial challenges of the pandemic.
Ida Montoya, the lunchroom manager, has seen the shock in students’ faces when they’re told their lunch is free. She saw the exact expression Montilla spoke of, which was confusion on a student’s face, as if there was a catch to this generous gesture.
Montoya spoke about only having three days to meet with her coworkers and discuss how they were going to adapt to the new adjustment. They know that about 1700 meals were made regularly, before Covid-19.
Now the cafeteria workers are preparing for the probability of students understanding that lunch is free, and that they can have more than just one meal for free.
However, the number of meals given to students have lowered to 900 a day. Montoya said, “The parents are a little scared, and they’re just like, ‘Don’t go in there, it’s too busy.’ And I think that’s what’s holding these students back, and it’s an open campus–they also can go get their own food.”
For those that need the food, she wants them to understand that it is safe and that they are abiding by the USDA and Nutrition Department guidelines. As manager, she said, “It just feels like home because it’s a bunch of your friends…I love to cook, and I love to feed these students.” Montoya explained how in her home, she feeds anyone and everyone who comes in, which is just what she wants here in the lunchroom. She hopes that soon this pandemic will be gone, and they will be able to display their food and assure the students it is safe once again.
Montilla, being a student in need, exclaimed, “I was about to get on my knees and thank the lunch lady.” Just as many other students may be experiencing financial hardships during this school year. This simple contribution from the USDA has been beneficial to the student population.