Beeville school district continues to feed youngsters free meals during pandemic

Christina Gonzalez hands a free lunch and breakfast to a parent during the daily food distribution for students and youth in Bee County. The Beeville school district, with state funding, is providing these daily meals.

BEEVILLE – Recent COVID-19 cases may be the cause for fewer kids coming to the schools in Beeville for a free breakfast and lunch.

As of April 9, the district had served 15,992 meals, both breakfast and lunch, to children in Bee County.

“Since the announcement of the first COVID-19 case, we noticed a decline,” said Erasmo Rodriguez, deputy superintendent. “We think that maybe it is attributed to that but we are not sure.”

The meals are available to any youth 18 and younger, living in the county — whether they attend a Beeville school or not.

“Our numbers have dropped 100 to 150 compared to what we have been doing,” said Stefenie Puentes, who was coordinating the Jones High distribution.

At the heart of the slowdown, staff speculated, was the recent confirmation of COVID-19 cases here that week.

“People are being more cautious after the cases were documented,” Puentes said. 

Those who are still coming are just as appreciative of the food as before, though.

“Most of them tell us we are a blessing to them,” Puentes said. 

The menu was simple that morning, April 14, a sandwich or corn dog along with fruit and vegetables and a breakfast. 

“If we serve a hot meal, we would have to have a separate hotbox out here,” Puentes said. Instead, such as for that next day, they will serve a fully cooked hamburger that the parents or students will only need to heat and serve.

The district has no intention of stopping this program as they struggle to find some of the paper goods they need to package the meals.

“Distributors are beginning to cut back on the supplies,” Rodriguez said. “There is a lot of demand for paper goods and some of the other commodities.” 

The school district staff is determined as is Art Provencio, director of food distribution, in their effort to keep this program going.

“Right now, our warehouse has a two-week stock,” Rodriguez said. “We are ordering every week to make sure we replenish as much as we can.”

Across town at R.A. Hall Elementary, the location serving the highest number of the meals, their numbers continue to decline.

“As soon as we heard about the cases, our numbers went down,” said Cindy Gonzales, who was tracking the number of meals being handed out that morning, April 14.

At their peak, they fed 678 children in one day.

April 13, less than a week after the second COVID-19 case was confirmed — they fed 276.

“I think they are afraid to come out,” Gonzales said. “We are here for the children, though.

“We are concerned because these may be the only meals some of these children are getting.”

Rodriguez agreed that it was likely concern for the virus that was keeping people from getting out to pick up the meals.

These declining numbers won’t stop the district from continuing to offer the food to those that need it.

“As long as we have people to pass out the food and somebody is benefiting from it, we are going to try and keep it going,” Rodriguez said. “The only reason we would stop is if we ran out of supplies.

“As long as we are helping the kiddos in need and they are coming by, we are going to be there.”

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 361-343-5221, or at editor@mySouTex.com.

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