Lunch is looking different for students in Mt. Lebanon right now, where school is cancelled indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but students are still receiving food from familiar faces. The school district’s food service team, led by Food Service Director Nolen Fetchko, continues making meals and handing them out on weekdays. They have been doing this since Monday, March 16, the first day that schools were closed.
“We go every day,” says Daisy Miksch, a Parkside Avenue mom with sons in first grade and preschool. “My sons look forward to being greeted by name, with big, familiar smiles. They place their lunch orders (even though they love having a choice to make each time, they both have a “usual”), which gives them an opportunity to take back some control during this time.”
Miksch first took her sons to pick up their lunches on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, when they nicknamed Fetchko and his associate, John Saban, the “Lunch Laddies.” Miksch appreciates the efficiency of the operation and is grateful that the program decreases the frequency of her trips to the grocery store.
Her sons are most appreciative of the banter. “Every day, they look forward to telling Nolen and John a joke, or challenging them to solve a riddle, or inviting them to admire a cowboy costume or a stuffed animal who’s come along for the ride,” says Miksch. “John and Nolen serve up a heaping helping of basic, good, old-fashioned friendliness along with those breakfast bags and hoagies.”
According to the Food Research and Action Center, the school lunch program is the second-biggest anti-hunger initiative in the country, after SNAP, or food stamps. For this reason, school districts around the country have rolled out similar programs to make sure their students still have regular, wholesome meals. But it is the fun, lighthearted experience of receiving these meals from the lunch laddies that has been delighting parents and students alike.
“There are many days—especially rainy ones—when we don’t happen to see any neighbors outside, and our conversation with Nolen and John ends up being the only moment of in-person interaction we have. It’s precious to us, and we’re thankful. Every visit ends with a big ‘THANK YOU, LUNCH LADDIES! SEE YOU TOMORROW!'”
Can your Mt. Lebanon student participate in this program? Scroll down for a Q&A with Laddie leader Fetchko to learn about these meals and the distribution process.
I understand you have been called the “Lunch Laddies.” Who is a part of this group that hands out the meals?
Haha yes, we have been dubbed that. Myself and John are the ones handing out the meals each day. He is my coworker and the assistant food service director. We handle the person-to-person interaction each day so our other staff members don’t have to worry about any possible exposure.
Are these meals just for students who qualify for free or reduced lunches?
We are classified as an “open” site, which means we can give meals to anyone under the age of 18, even if they aren’t a student in the Mt. Lebanon School District. Typically our district would not qualify for this classification but, given the circumstances, the state has offered flexibility waivers to allow schools to do this.
What is your staffing situation like right now?
We have several of our staff members come in each day to help with the preparation of the current day’s meals and to start preparing meals for the following day. We understand not everyone may be comfortable with doing this, so nobody is required to come do this.
How does distribution work? How do you ensure appropriate social distancing in the pickup area?
We distribute the meals each weekday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. outside the C-20 entrance of the high school. People generally stay in their cars and we hand the meals in through a car window. Some people choose to get out of their cars, which is fine, and we make sure to keep the safe distance of six feet between them and ourselves. The parents are all very cognizant of social distancing, so we have not had an issue of more than one car’s worth of people getting out of their cars at the same time.
How many meals do you hand out in a day?
We started with 47 meals on our first day and have trended up towards to a new high of 247 yesterday (April 2). We anticipate that this number will continue to climb as school/business closures remain in place. The feedback has been great. Everyone has been very kind and extremely appreciative.
Why do you think this is important?
Our district has around 650 students receiving free/reduced meals. This means there are potentially 650+ students who may not be receiving three wholesome meals each day while still trying to complete their school work during this extended closure. It’s our job to make sure these students are properly nourished to aid them in their continued education. Aside from that, it is important to some of these families who may be experiencing joblessness as a result of business closures. Hopefully the meals we are providing can help them stretch what they do have further. Finally, it seems that families are happy to get out of the house and the students seem to appreciate a familiar meal during these unique times.