School meals for thousands; BISD meal distribution shifts into high gear

The Brownsville Independent School District’s Food and Nutrition Services Department depends on BISD parents just as the parents count on FNS to provide healthful meals to students — in good times and during the coronavirus pandemic.

A line of cars stretches down the sidewalk as people wait to pick up school meals Thursday at Brownsville Independent School District’s weekday meal distribution outside Vermillion Road Elementary.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

That dynamic was evident at Vermillion Elementary School on Thursday, where FNS personnel distribute between 600 and 700 breakfast, lunch and dinner meals every day, five days a week.

“The community probably doesn’t realize that FNS is self-funded,” meaning that it doesn’t get any funding directly from BISD, only reimbursements from the U.S. and Texas departments of agriculture,” FNS Administrator Laura Villarreal said.

She said FNS started serving supper on Monday, “meaning that we’re able to serve three square meals a day, all at no cost to the students or their families.”

Irma Ayala, a grandmother of two, waited in line with her grandson, Eric, to pick up meals for him and his sister Melissa Ayala, who goes to nearby Garcia Middle School. Eric attends Paredes Elementary, but his grandmother is able to pick up the meals at Vermillion with an authorization letter and bar code.

“They’re nice people and they’re doing a fantastic job,” Ayala said, adding that she just started receiving the meals.

Parents picked up meals at four stops, one for breakfast, lunch and supper, and another to scan the bar code into the computer.

Villarreal said BISD serves some 202,500 meals a week, roughly 13,500 breakfasts, lunches and dinners, five days a week. Breakfasts and lunches require an authorization letter but not the suppers. They can be picked up for anyone 0-18 years old, regardless of enrollment, she said.

Belen Gonzalez, the cafeteria manager at Vermillion, said preparing and distributing the meals is an all-day job for her and her 19 employees. They do batch cooking to keep everything fresh, and four transportation department employees assist, both in the kitchen and distributing the meals to outlying areas.

Villarreal said each of BISD’s 34 elementary schools is distributing meals along with the district’s six full-service high schools. Each school is also distributing between 100-180 meals to outlying areas via school buses.

“We need the families to come out and participate,” she said. “We are here for your children. We love to know the children are receiving our meals.”

Victoria Camachola, a parent, said she appreciates the help from the district. “They’re being very nice to us,” she said.

Camachola was picking up meals for her two sons. The older goes to Rivera Early College High School, and the younger to Pullam Elementary.

“We’re still getting used to the distance learning,” she said. “It’ is very difficult. Hopefully we’ll go back soon.”