Just because Monday is the beginning of a week-long vacation for Lawton Public Schools students doesn’t mean the district will stop feeding children.
Just call it an extension of the Thanksgiving spirit and one that will extend into Christmas.
Monday, LPS’ child nutrition program will be set up in the front drive of Central Middle School at Cache Road and Fort Sill Boulevard to provide seven days worth of meals to youths: every student who attends Lawton Public School (virtually and in-person) and every child in Lawton under the age of 18. Fourteen meals (seven days worth of breakfast and seven days of lunch) will be handed out between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., said Daniel Ghrayyeb, LPS director of child nutrition.
Those who come don’t have to provide documentation, but they will be asked for the names and ages of their child (children), for district records.
Ghrayyeb said his department already has been handing out a week’s worth of meals to LPS virtual students and non-LPS students under age 18 each Monday since late September, so this week’s holiday project is a continuation of an established program that is working well. And, the experience and lessons the nutrition program gained over the summer and into the fall allows LPS to provide more than cereal and the makings for sandwiches.
That process is easier now because of an investment the district made: packing machines.
“We’re packing all the cooked meals,” Ghrayyeb said, explaining the district’s nutrition staff makes meals, then packs the food into containers with three compartments. “It’s like an airplane dinner or something like a TV dinner, but all made in-house.”
The flat trays can be frozen — which is how the district will give them to students — and families will have the option of stashing the frozen containers in their own freezers until needed, or keeping them in the refrigerator for several days (the trays stack easily). Students can eat the meals after microwaving them or heating them in the oven (both cooking methods will work with the containers).
Ghrayyeb said the containers represent the next step in the evolution of LPS’ nutrition program. The district had been placing meals in separate bags for separate days, but now uses the containers, what he calls a professional step that is used in meal programs such as those conducted for senior citizens.
“It’s really clean, easy to heat. You don’t have to have a plate; it’s ready to eat,” he said.
And, it’s something beyond a sandwich.
“It’s a hot meal,” Ghrayyeb said, explaining the week’s worth of meals will include a Thanksgiving dinner, along with meals such as sweet and sour meatballs, spaghetti and a taco bowl.
As with school lunches, the entrees are served with two veggies or a vegetable and a fruit/dessert. Breakfast items also will be frozen, for later heating before serving. And, meals will come with 14 milks and some variety of juices.
Ghrayyeb said the program gives students versatility, because the frozen containers mean the youths can eat their meals whenever they want. And, it means students get dining options beyond sandwiches that may become soggy, or food that loses its quality after a few hours.
“We send home a hot meal,” he said. “It’s something sustainable. And, it doesn’t take up much room in their freezer.”
As with the meals provided to students and other youths during normal school weeks, the meals are free. Lawton Public Schools has been able to continue that because of an extension granted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which means all school districts that receive nutrition funding will be able to provide meals to all students — not just low income — without charge for the rest of the school year.
Ghrayyeb said while other districts are providing the free meals during school hours, LPS is one of the few districts providing meals during the holidays.
“It’s something that the superintendent and myself talked about: can we do it?” he said, explaining he reached out to employees who said they were willing to work on those days to ensure the meal program could take place.
And, LPS administrators continue to ensure the program is provided to any youth in Lawton under age 18, even if they go to other schools, he said.