For Eugene 4J students who don’t have transportation, getting a free school meal can be difficult. But a couple has been delivering lunches to low-income students.
Joe and Brenda Brainard run the 4J School District Natives Program, which teaches Native American drumming, singing, and history. Brenda Brainard said they started passing out lunches two weeks ago because they knew some kids in the program were unable to make it to pick-up locations.
“Some have parents that were working, some parents didn't have transportation, and some of the meal sites were really quite far from where our students lived,” said Brainard.
Since they already knew some families that have barriers to getting a school lunch, they started calling, texting, and posting on Facebook to see who needed a meal delivered.
Brainard said it's a long route. In total, the couple drives about one hundred miles every weekday—which is about two and a half to three hours of daily driving across Eugene.
As more people take precautions against the spread of coronavirus, so do they.
“Before, we would ring the doorbell and hand them the box,” said Brainard. “But now, we put a box on their doorstep, ring the doorbell, walk away, and they pick up their food. We wait and watch and make sure they get it. And then we drive on to the next house.”
The couple even has a student helper. Sheldon High School senior Gracie Villavencecio has been assisting them with delivery.
“She picks up the food from us—she picks up a quite a large number of lunches—and she takes them to every door in her apartment building and drops them off,” said Brainard.
The Brainards have also started delivering meals to kids outside the Natives program.
“On our routes, we found some other kids who lived in the same house with program students,” said Brainard. “So we just started taking lunches to a bunch of kids.”
And over the past two weeks, the number of lunches has only increased.
“I think we started with either 32 or 34 and now we're over 70,” said Brainard.
As of Tuesday, the team steadily delivered 70 meals the first two days of the week. She said that was the first time the number of meals stayed the same for two days in a row. As more people are laid off in Lane County, they expect more kids will need meals. But the Brainards sound ready to lend a helping hand.
“I assume that as maybe more people are without resources that it could increase,” said Brainard. “And I hope it does. I hope that there are people that reach out to us and can use our help getting them their lunches.”
In addition to providing food, she said they’re glad they deliver meals so they can be a resource for students who need help.
“Some of these kids are a little isolated,” said Brainard. “So I want to make sure they see every day that someone's there for them. And if there's an issue of needing additional support, we're there to do that.”
4J is working to provide meals for students 18 and under until schools reopen.