KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A school district here has partnered with an alternative vehicle transportation company to ensure special-needs students who are unable to get to a bus stop receive meals during school closures spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hickman Mills C-1 School District began delivering meals to students with its contracted school buses (through Apple Bus Co.) at their stops on March 24, Teresa Tanner, the director of student services for the district, told School Bus Fleet. Hickman Mills also enlisted ALC Schools to handle curbside delivery of breakfasts and lunches to 128 students who are displaced, in foster care, or have disabilities that prevent them from going a couple of blocks to a bus stop.
The district deployed 118 drivers and some volunteers on its bus routes to hand out the bagged meals. All drivers arrive at their assigned school location and pick up the breakfasts and lunches, which are packed in plastic containers. Most bus drivers deliver the meals to the students’ bus stops, but some bring them to students' homes because that is where their bus normally stops. (Hickman Mills had been making the deliveries every school day, but recently switched to bringing multiple meals to students on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Megan Carey, the chief revenue officer for ALC Schools, told SBF.)
Every student in the district is currently eligible to receive meals delivered by the school buses, ALC Schools, or parent pickup, Tanner said.
“A high poverty, low income school district, 100% of Hickman Mills students are eligible to receive a free breakfast and lunch during the typical school day,” she added.
ALC Schools' curbside service has had even greater success than bus stop service: the company is seeing a 100% success rate with deliveries. Key factors include the company’s communication plan, the special attention given to each student, and the removal of the stigma of being seen getting free meals.
Communication to the 5,800 students who get breakfast and lunch by school bus was thorough, consisting of a phone blast and bus stop locations and arrival times being posted on the district's website.
Meanwhile, ALC Schools called every family to let them know what time the meals would arrive, the kind of car, and the name of the driver, Tanner said.
“I believe that individual personal touch contributes to ALC Schools’ high success rate,” she added.
Additionally, although the district provides free breakfast and lunch to every student every school day, students and their families may be sensitive to being seen in their neighborhood receiving free food.
“Going out to a bus stop to pick up a [meal] may be embarrassing for some families as they may view it as a handout,” Tanner said. “It may hurt their pride if everyone sees their child getting lunch from the school bus.”
However, families in the community look out for each other, she added. Tanner and an ALC Schools coordinator contacted a good handful of the students’ families before delivery due to their children having conditions that might impede their ability to eat the meal. They asked if other family members could still use it. Many turned it down and requested it go to someone else.
“They stated that they were OK with their food supply and wanted to make sure another family had enough food,” Tanner said.
The partnership is an extension of a long-standing relationship between the district and the transportation company; ALC Schools has transported a variety of the district’s special-needs students for about the last five years.
The company is also delivering meals to students' doorsteps, and in some cases, instructional supplies and devices, in several other districts across the U.S., Numerous other school districts are also working on plans to include assistance from ALC Schools, she added.
That assistance could include free use of the company's in-house routing technology during the crisis to help districts plan door-to-door delivery.
"Some districts are using their buses to get supplies out, but may not have the resources to route all of these deliveries," Carey explained.
"We have in our conversations with districts across the United States made it clear we are happy to help in any way," she added.