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May 8
1875 - John F. Powell, an Irish immigrant, becomes Justice of the Peace [story]
John F. Powell


When Dr. Robert Lewis took up the CEO position at School Day Cafe last December, he did so wanting a challenge. He got one. Three months into his tenure, Lewis found himself facing an unprecedented scenario: How to feed thousands of students during the worst public health crisis in decades, without a single cafeteria or classroom.

Under normal circumstances School Day Cafe provides breakfast lunch for elementary schools in the Castaic, Newhall, Saugus and Sulphur Springs school districts.

That changed on Friday, March 13, when the majority of California school districts, including those serviced by School Day Cafe, decided they would not reopen the coming Monday, and possibly not for the remainder of the school year, due to the novel coronavirus.

Lewis knew what that would mean for thousands of area kids.

“If these students aren’t fed by us, some of them won’t be fed at all,” Lewis said. “They rely on us for food. We are morally obligated to make this program work, no matter what.”

Lewis and his team immediately began planning for what would soon become School Day Cafe’s drive-up meal service. Health concerns were top of mind, but far from the only hurdle the non-profit faced.

“We had to get a number of waivers [from the California Department of Education],” Lewis said. “We needed a waiver to serve food at a different time, a waiver to provide drive-up service, a waiver to serve at a non-school site.”

School Day Cafe also applied for a waiver to serve food for free, something Dr. Lewis insisted on.

“We knew the economic impact of COVID-19 on our community would be tremendous,” he said. “Forty-percent of our student population already qualified for free meals. This service had to be free.”

But the biggest shift of all was around who School Day Cafe would feed. Normally, the nonprofit feeds elementary and a few middle school students. During the crisis, they couldn’t stop there.

“We decided early that we had to feed every child, whether they’re a student or not,” Lewis said. “The need doesn’t start in kindergarten and stop in 8th grade. If you’re 18 or younger, we’re going to feed you.”

Lewis also insisted the service live up to School Day Cafe’s normal health and quality standards.

“All of our grains are whole grains,” Lewis said. “All of our proteins are lean proteins. I feel very strongly that we shouldn’t just give everybody a tuna fish sandwich every day; we need to cook for those kids and give them a hot meal when we can.”

With the task set, Lewis and his team had one more challenge to overcome: staffing. School Day Cafe didn’t want to put any staff members at risk, and offered the option for workers to stay at home.

“A lot of people were afraid,” Lewis said. “Some of our staff needed to stay at home. We had to figure out how to serve with a reduced staff.”

Despite that fear, on March 18 – only five days after the closures were announced – School Day Cafe opened its first drive-up lunch service at their central kitchen in Santa Clarita.

The turnout was immediate: School Day Cafe served about 6,000 lunches that first week. Lewis saw the impact the service was having firsthand.

“I was on-site the first week, and a dad came up with tears in his eyes and said, ‘Thank you, I didn’t know how we were going to get through this.'”

A Greater Need
By the end of March, School Day Cafe had expanded its free drive-up lunch service to 11 local schools.

But supply chain disruptions were taking their toll. School Day Cafe was running low on safe packaging for their to-go lunches.

Lewis and his team reached out to the community for help. The response was overwhelming.

“We got five pallets of to-go boxes from the bakery next door,” Lewis said. “Trader Joe’s delivered bunches of them. Parents brought in more. It was incredible. People really came together.”

The sheriff’s office also got involved, offering masks, and regular patrols of the drive-up meal service locations.

At schools where the drive-up meal service was being provided, thank you messages from kids started appearing – notes on the sidewalk, drawn in chalk, or in crayon on paper. Lewis was receiving similar notes in his inbox from parents.

Despite the program’s initial success, the need in Santa Clarita was quickly growing. By the end of their second full week of drive-up service, School Day Cafe had added breakfast to their menu, and was serving an average of 8,000 meals per day.

“We have a lot of parents who would never ask for any type of charity, but they’ve been laid off through no fault of their own, and they need the help,” Lewis said.

So Lewis and his team took up a new challenge: in addition to breakfast and lunch, they would provide supper for area children as well.

“Supper is the last piece,” Lewis said. “It’s how we make sure every child has access to three square meals a day.”

Many families, it turns out, really do need all three of those free meals.

By April 22, School Day Cafe was serving more than 15,000 meals a day to area children. Between March 18 and May 5, the nonprofit served more than 300,000 meals.

Lewis is quick to credit the community for making that happen.

“This community is incredible,” Lewis said. “This team [at School Day Cafe] is incredible. They’ve put themselves at risk and really stepped up. Our Director of Food Services, Jane Crawford, found a way to make everything work; every time we decided to expand service, she made it happen.”

School Day Cafe’s free drive-up meal service will continue until at least the end of the school year, which is June 12. Lewis said his team is already considering how to help feed children during the summer, but much of what they can do will depend on the state of the novel coronavirus at that time.

“The need won’t stop at the end of the school year,” Lewis said. “There will be more to do.”

Nutrition information for all drive-up menu items, and more about School Day Cafe, can be found at SchoolDayCafe.org.

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SCV NewsBreak
LOCAL NEWS HEADLINES
Friday, May 7, 2021
Wilk Introduces Resolution Urging Congress to Amend the Social Security Average Wage Index
Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, announced the introduction of Senate Joint Resolution 5, urging the federal government to immediately pass a correction to the Social Security formula to protect benefits for millions of Americans who turned 60 during the pandemic.
Friday, May 7, 2021
City Council to Consider Federal Funds in Support of Future Local Affordable Housing
The Santa Clarita City Council will consider allocating a little over $3.5 million in federal funding intended to support low- and moderate-income residents with decent and affordable housing and economic opportunities.
Friday, May 7, 2021
RNRN Calls on Nurse Volunteers to Administer Covid-19 Vaccine Doses
Nurses Week is underway and the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) is calling on registered nurse volunteers to assist with Covid-19 vaccinations at the Kedren Community Health Center in partnership with International Medical Corps.
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Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1875 - John F. Powell, an Irish immigrant, becomes Justice of the Peace [story]
John F. Powell
Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, announced the introduction of Senate Joint Resolution 5, urging the federal government to immediately pass a correction to the Social Security formula to protect benefits for millions of Americans who turned 60 during the pandemic.
Wilk Introduces Resolution Urging Congress to Amend the Social Security Average Wage Index
The Santa Clarita City Council will consider allocating a little over $3.5 million in federal funding intended to support low- and moderate-income residents with decent and affordable housing and economic opportunities.
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The owners of Maria’s Italian Deli in Newhall, past and present, celebrated the restaurant’s reopening Wednesday, following last year’s announcement it would be closing its doors after 47 years.
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