CORONAVIRUS

'We'll get through this:' school staff hand out free meals as three-week closure sets in

Iowa schools are closed until April 13, but free breakfast, lunch still available for anyone 18 and younger

Second grade teacher Michele Dorrance passes out grab 'n' go meals to students out front of the Johnson STEAM Academy in
Second grade teacher Michele Dorrance passes out grab ‘n’ go meals to students out front of the Johnson STEAM Academy in Cedar Rapids on Monday, March 23, 2020. The school provided a hot lunch as well as a breakfast for Tuesday morning to families and students under 18 who came to pick them up on foot or by car. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Seven-year-old Lorelai Bodkin ran up and down the sidewalk outside Johnson STEAM Academy with her cousins Monday morning, waiting for free meal service to start at the Cedar Rapids elementary school.

Asked how she feels about school being canceled until at least April 13, she stuck out her bottom lip in a pout.

“Sad,” she answered. “I like school. I like the library.”

School staff throughout the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area started offering free “grab and go” meals at dozens of locations Monday — the day that would have been students’ first day back at school after spring break, had schools not been ordered to close due to the coronavirus threat.

Anyone 18 and younger can pick up a meal at any of the sites, regardless of where they’re enrolled in school, and meals will be available until school is back in session.

Lorelai, who goes to Cleveland Elementary, played in front of a sign urging people to stay 6 feet apart and drivers to stay in their cars while waiting for a bag of food — a hot lunch plus breakfast for tomorrow.

Sites managed by the Cedar Rapids Community School District handed out nearly 3,500 bags of food Monday.

“I know that we’ll take care of our families and our kids, and we’ll get through this,” said second grade teacher Michele Dorrance, who volunteered to hand out meals. “I feel hopeful. … I feel really positive.”

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Traffic at Johnson, 355 18th St. SE, was slow Monday morning. Staff wondered if students were still out-of-town on spring break trips, or if students were sleeping late.

Several said they were less worried about families’ access to food, considering the area’s many food pantries, than about children’s routines being upended.

“The only normalcy for a lot of these kids is seeing their teachers,” said Cedar Rapids Police Officer Spencer Watts, a school resource officer at Washington High School who helped hand out meals. “The whole normalcy is gone.”

Paraprofessional Ellen Bloomquist said she checked in with a few families where she knows access to food “might be a struggle. And that’s the last of their worries.”

Before meal service started Monday morning, Mackenzie Reeves idled in her car with her 9- and 7-year-old sons playing on smartphones in the back seat. She works at a sandwich shop and said it’s been difficult for her to work recently.

That morning, she had read about Congress being deadlocked on legislation that could help her family’s finances. As she talked about how her husband, a carpenter, was having trouble finding clients and their upcoming rent payments, her eyes filled with tears.

“It’s been rough,” she said. “And it sounds like it’s going to get rougher.”

LOCATIONS

Meals will be distributed from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at these Cedar Rapids schools:

• Arthur Elementary, 2630 B Ave. NE

• Grant Elementary, 254 Outlook Dr. SW

• Grant Wood Elementary, 645 26th St. SE

• Hoover Elementary, 4141 Johnson Ave. NW

• Johnson Elementary, 355 18th St. SE

• Nixon Elementary, 200 Nixon Dr. Hiawatha,

• Taylor Elementary, 720 Seventh Ave. SW

• Wright Elementary, 1524 Hollywood Blvd. NE

• Roosevelt Middle School, 300 13th St. NW

Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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