PLAINFIELD, NJ — During the summer months children who are food insecure have an opportunity to receive free meals through a program offered in partnership between the Plainfield Public School District and the Division of Parks and Recreation.  But what happens during a COVID-19 pandemic when schools are shut down?  Meet Andre James, Food Service Director, and his Maschio’s Food Services team.

TAPinto Plainfield caught up with James on Thursday, and asked him about his role in feeding students who were suddenly learning at home.

James said once Governor Phil Murphy and the Department of Education made the decision to close schools, he received a call from Superintendent Dr. Diana Mitchell. She told him the district still wanted to provide meals for students, and she asked James to come up with a plan to distribute meals, identify locations and define distribution times.

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The original plan was to feed students at three schools in the district: Plainfield High School, Emerson Community School, and Clinton Elementary School. According to James, they served around 400 families on that first day. 

But they were just getting started.  They recognized there is a large population of low-income students around the public housing units in town.  So James and his team added a mobile site at Liberty Village Apartments. 

Then a fifth site was added at Barlow Elementary School.  That evolved into the van visiting a different school each day.  On Monday it was at Barlow, Tuesday it was at Jefferson Elementary, Wednesday at Stillman Elementary, Thursday at Evergreen Elementary, and Friday at Washington Community School.

"Overall that increased our numbers. I did a lot of social media posts to try to get the word out to the Plainfield community that this service is being provided," James noted.

He said he received calls from charter schools as well, and the program has been opened up to anyone under 18-years-old who lives in Plainfield. "This pandemic changes the rules daily."

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Initially the Maschio’s Food Services team was only allowed to serve breakfast and lunch bags, and the child had to be present.  But the school nutrition program was augmented to include a snack bag, and allowed parents to pick up the meals without the children in tow.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) school nutrition programs are administered through the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA).  Eligible schools receive financial assistance when they provide nutritionally balanced meals to children each day.

"We do about 18,000 to 19,000 meals a week," James noted. All the meals are prepared at Plainfield High School.  Distribution sites serve meals from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

"On Fridays, if we have anything left over, we give it out, so they have food for the weekend."

James, who previously worked in Plainfield as Executive Chef for Sodexo, said when the school district most recently went out to bid, he was approached by a manager who asked him if Maschio's won the contract, would he be interested working there. 

"I just jumped on it, I said yes, I love Plainfield."  He said the school district works well with food service because they care about the kids.

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